OU football: Baker Mayfield is among Cleveland's biggest problems — and it has nothing to do with his off-field antics
Just when you thought the Cleveland Browns couldn’t look any worse, Baker Mayfield walked into his postgame press conference ready to audition for a “Home Alone” reboot.
The mussed-up hair. The lip-hugging mustache. The winter-weight trench coat.
The former Oklahoma superstar looked like Marv, the house-robbing bad guy played by Daniel Stern in the “Home Alone” franchise. All Mayfield needed to do was pop his collar, and he could start terrorizing Macaulay Culkin.
It was a ridiculous end to what has become a ridiculous mess in Cleveland.
Losers of their last four games, the Browns are in free fall. They have only two wins and show few signs of life. The stat geniuses at FiveThirtyEight give Cleveland only a 9 percent chance of making the playoffs after its loss to Denver on Sunday.
Even though the problems are many, Mayfield is among the biggest. And it isn’t because of his off-field antics. Or his press-conference soundbites. Or even his Halloween-was-last-week outfits.
It’s because of his play.
Mayfield has been terrible.
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He was expected to take a big leap this season. To restore the Browns to long-lost glory. To establish himself as a future face of the NFL. Instead, he is performing as poorly as any starting quarterback in the league.
In the NFL, the highest quarterback rating possible is 158.3, and anything over 100.0 is pretty darn good. Russell Wilson is the starting quarterback with the highest rating this season at 118.2.
There are plenty of good quarterback who aren’t in triple digits. Lamar Jackson (95.4) and Tom Brady (93.1) are evidence of that.
But Mayfield has a quarterback rating of 71.3.
That’s lower than Andy Dalton (79.2) and Eli Manning (78.7) — and those two starters got benched. I’m not suggesting Mayfield should be replaced, but I’m also not convinced back-up Garrett Gilbert couldn’t do better.
Mayfield has seven touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, tied with Jameis Winston for the most in the NFL this season. Mayfield is on pace to have more interceptions this season as a Brown (24) than he had in three seasons as a Sooner (21).
Sunday’s loss to the Broncos was actually one of Mayfield’s better days in terms of taking care of the football. He didn’t throw an interception. Didn’t fumble the ball either.
But he threw just one touchdown pass despite the Browns getting into the red zone five times. The first three times Cleveland got inside Denver’s 20-yard line, the Browns had to settle for field goals in part because of Mayfield's misfires. He attempted seven passes combined in the red zone on those drives — and completed only two of them.
Had the Browns maximized all of their five red-zone opportunities Sunday, they’d have scored 35 points. They managed only 16 instead.
Leaving 19 points on the table is a killer.
Granted, Cleveland’s woes on Sunday were not entirely Mayfield’s fault. Same goes for the team’s struggles this season. No player can win a game by himself, and the same goes for losing.
The Browns’ futility has definitely been a team effort.
But Mayfield needs to play better. We know he can. We saw it during his days in Norman. We saw it last season when he was a rookie with the Browns. He is absolutely capable of more.
Take red-zone failures, which have been a continual problem this season. Mayfield was brilliant in those situations last year; he completely 64.8 percent of his passes, throwing 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Such success seems long ago and far away in Cleveland.
I know lots of gridiron gurus have talked about the Browns’ culture being broken. I’m not close enough to the team to say, though safety Jermaine Whitehead’s going on Twitter and threatening media and fans while still in the locker room Sunday was auspicious. At least the Browns had the good sense to cut Whitehead on Monday.
Some say Mayfield is part of the problem. He says incendiary things. He does a million commercials. That he shaved twice at the stadium Sunday — arrived with a full beard, had a handlebar mustache during the game, then had a more traditional mustache after — has even riled up some folks.
But really, the biggest issue with Mayfield is his performance. If he was playing better, he could wear his trench coat and look like Daniel Stern and no one would mind.
Instead, everyone's wondering why he shaved more times Sunday than he got the Browns into the end zone.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.