FOXBORO, Mass. — Baker Mayfield should have been taking notes on Sam Darnold last week. If the Cleveland Browns quarterback was studying his New York Jets counterpart, he learned not to deliver any bulletin board material to the New England Patriots’ defense and to expect to face apparitions.
Darnold made the mistake of saying he was going to find the weakness in the Patriots’ defense in the days leading up to New York’s 33-0 loss to New England on Monday night. He only discovered strengths in a dismal performance, going 11 of 32 for 86 yards with four interceptions.
Mayfield, who was drafted last year, is pretty outspoken, so he certainly needs to watch what he says before Sunday. But facing off against the Patriots’ defense will be an uphill climb no matter what words he chooses this week.
The Patriots have a 23-game winning streak against first- or second-year starting quarterbacks dating back to the 2013 season. They have a 13-game winning streak against second-year starting quarterbacks also dating back to the 2013 season.
So, how does Mayfield avoid stepping in traps as the Patriots’ defense disguises its looks before the snap?
“I think you just have to study film with him,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said in a conference call Wednesday. “You see what they’re going to do or what you think they’re going to do. But I think you have to have a base of understanding of your process and sometimes you just go play the game and go with what you see. Make sure your eyes are in the right spot and know how you react to what they do. That’s the best-case scenario.”
Kitchens acknowledged that Mayfield would be the first to admit he hasn’t been good enough in his second season. Mayfield is completing 56.6 percent of his passes for 1,496 yards with five touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a passer rating of 66.
The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner became a bit of a face of the NFL after an impressive rookie campaign in which he completed 63.8 percent of his passes with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 13 starts. Mayfield’s commercials for Progressive seem to play on a loop on Sunday afternoons.
Needless to say, his performance has not matched the hype near the midway point of the 2019 season.
Mayfield will be on an ever-retractable leash in the Dawg Pound as the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he also needs to stay away from a performance even half as disastrous as Darnold’s from Monday night. Toss even a couple of more interceptions onto Mayfield’s stat line, and fans suddenly will be laughing at the QB, not with him, as those commercials air between breaks in the Browns-Patriots matchup.
Unfortunately for Mayfield, no quarterback has avoided throwing an interception against the Patriots this season, and only New York Giants rookie Daniel Jones has managed to toss a touchdown. Jones also was intercepted three times.
Overall, quarterbacks are completing 50.8 percent of passes with one touchdown and a league-high 18 interceptions with an NFL-low 35.6 passer rating against New England’s “Boogeymen” defense.
This week seems like a recipe for disaster, with a struggling quarterback facing off against a historically dominant defense. Multiple trends would have to be bucked for Mayfield to even look serviceable Sunday.
If Mayfield can avoid saying something that could be perceived as inflammatory and prepare for those happy haunts, it’s at least a good start. That’s all he can hope for.
Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images