Browns Fans: Chill
Here is a hot take - Cleveland Browns fans need to chill out. After years of terrible seasons, the Browns finally have a winning record and are in a good position to make the playoffs. I admit, I may have overreacted in week 1 after the loss to the Ravens. But since that loss the Browns are 5-1 with their only loss coming from their division rival Pittsburg Steelers, who look to be a Superbowl favorite. And this is where the Cleveland superfan 1000 degree hot takes come in - everyone wants to blow the organization up because the Browns have yet to beat a real playoff contender. So I am going to walk through a couple of the hottest takes I have heard in the last 2 weeks and try to debunk them with data.
Hot Take 1: Move on from Baker Mayfield
Mayfield no doubt has been inconsistent since his start in 2018. But do you know what else inconsistent? The organization around him. In 3 seasons Mayfield has had 4 head coaches which means 4 reboots, 4 systems, and 4 cultures. Its exhausting just to think about. The fact that people are calling for his job the moment he gets a coach who knows how to win games is baffling to me. But lets take a look at his performance under different regimes:
Mayfield definitely had the best success under Gregg Williams and a lot of Browns fans see the decision to remove Williams after going 5-3 a poor one. That being said, Williams never beat a playoff team. Their 3 losses came to the Chiefs, Ravens, and Texans who all made the playoffs that year. This 5-2 start by the Browns in a way is very similar to the 5-3 record posted by Williams, the difference is that Stefanski has time to right the ship.
The other issue I see with this take is that there is really no practical solution available at this point. Case Keenum's name gets thrown out there but the second the Browns replace Mayfield their organizational culture will be destroyed, again, and they will signal that they are actively looking for a new quarterback. Is that worth it when the season is at 5-2? 5-3? 5-4? Even if the Browns fall apart in the last half of the season and go 8-8, what are the options? Teams who have found their starting quarterback aren't itching to give them away which leaves either getting a veteran in free agency, who will have their own issues, or hoping and praying that a Lamar Jackson talent falls in the draft again. Browns fans need to wait until the end of this season to make a final decision on Mayfield.
Hot Take 2: Mayfield is Better without OBJ
Stop. As alluded to earlier, this is a coaching issue and not a player issue. People like to point to Odell Beckham Jr. as the problem because he came to the Browns at the same time Freddie Kitchens took over. Mayfield performed significantly worse under Kitchens than he did under Hugh Jackson and Gregg Williams. In his season with Kitchens, OBJ had only 2 games where his passer rating was above 100 when targeted, this happened in only 6 games under Stefanski.
Looking at the graph below, Odell's offensive snap percentage remains consistent when Mayfield's performance does not. One interesting thing to note here is that Mayfield's Bad Throw Percentage significantly increases when OBJ's Average Depth per Target goes over 20 yards.
The outlier of course here being last week against the 1-5-1 Bengals, certainly not enough information to determine that they are better without him.
One last quibble, Mayfield performs a lot better when the team runs the ball more. When Nick Chubb returns to the lineup the offensive numbers should see a nice lift.
Data provided by www.pro-football-reference.com