The Cleveland Browns may have been defeated by an unlikely opponent in the 2021 season, expectations. Heading into the season, the Browns were widely considered a dark horse Super Bowl pick. Instead the Browns were eliminated from playoff contention on 1/2/2022 at the hands of a Joe Burrow come from behind win against the Kansas City Chiefs. This has been the most disappointing season in decades for a team who has mostly had zero expectations since their return in 1999. In the NFL adversity is a part of the game. Every team faced similar challenges to the Browns this season. The only difference is the Browns were never able to overcome the adversity. Talent is not the issue with this team, they had 5 players selected to the Pro Bowl. If talent is not the issue then what went so terribly wrong for this team?
Jamie Gillan’s dropped punt in Kansas City week 1 might have been more of an omen for the whole season than most of us knew at the time. That was one of many games the Browns led at halftime, but were unable to close out the game to seal the win. Baker Mayfield is 0-5 on potential game winning drives this season. That coupled with a 4th QTR QBR of just 23.4 places Mayfield last in the league. In addition to Week 1, the Browns can blame week 5 at LA, week 8 against Pittsburgh, and week 12 at Baltimore. Even Christmas Day in Green Bay. Baker threw 4 INTs, including the game sealing INT on the final drive. If the Browns could have pulled out even 1 of these games in the 4th Quarter, they likely would be heading to the playoffs.
Another frustrating aspect of this season has been the inability to play a complete game. In the beginning of the season the offense was playing well and the defense was struggling. As the season has progressed the defense has really came together, and the offense has struggled to score more than 17 points per game. Baker Mayfield has been a big reason for the struggles on offense. Baker leads the NFL in INTs since 2018. His accuracy was supposed to be a strength of his coming out of Oklahoma. We have not seen that on a consistent basis. Baker is also 2-16 with the ball in his hands with a chance to tie or take the lead with 2 minutes left. Year 4 for Baker is coming to an end. There has still been no extension, and his play this season makes one unlikely this offseason. His 5th year option has already been picked up, but it is very rare for a QB to actually play out his 5th year option. They are almost always resigned by this point or the team moves on from them. The Browns need to take a long hard look at Baker Mayfield this off season, because heading into year 5 how much can really change with Baker? The championship window is now. Will they waste another year on Baker Mayfield?
Of course we all know Baker hurt his shoulder making a senseless tackle after he threw an INT week 2 against Houston. The only question is how much of his poor play this season can be due to the shoulder injury? All season the organization has downplayed the severity of the injury, and on December 1 Andrew Berry echoed these thoughts when he said he expects Baker to play his best football over the final 5 games. In short, that has not happened. Baker’s stats across the board mirror a bottom 5 QB this season.
The offense as a whole has been a mess for the majority of the season. Since week 7, The Browns have only reached 17 points 4 times over the course of 9 games. The team does not have a receiver with over 500 yards, and 0 receivers with more than 3 TDs. That is absolutely inexcusable. Is it play calling? Stefanski has never been known to run an air it out down the field type of offense, but the Browns had much more success last season. Is it a sophomore slump for Kevin? The league may be figuring out how to beat the Browns which limits Stefanski in his play calling. It has been argued that Stefanski may not trust Baker. This is a valid talking point because when forced to throw the ball, Baker threw 4 INTs against the Packers for the world to see on Christmas Day.
Special teams has also been a mess for the Browns this season. They have not been able to find a reliable kicker since Phil Dawson. Jamie Gillan averaged 43.9 Net AVG before being cut which would place him near the bottom of the entire league. The Browns had no threat in the return game partially due to the awful coverage of the special teams unit most of the season. Penalties have been an issue on all sides of the ball, including special teams.
Many things may be to blame for the Browns being a huge disappointment this season. None seem to be bigger than the poor play of Baker Mayfield. His big knocks coming out of college were that he is short and slow. We are seeing that this season as he is unable to step up in a clean pocket to make a strong throw. He has looked uncomfortable and indecisive most of the season. This could be partially due to the injury, but either way it has cost the Browns games. His confidence seems to be at an all time low, and for good reason. He wanted to get paid. The Cleveland Browns cannot be happy with the results this season. They get an F from me for this season. A season where they were expected to play deep into the playoffs, they will now be watching from home like the rest of us. It is going to be a long offseason with many difficult decisions to be made. The offseason starts today, even with 2 meaningless games left. There is always next year though, right?
Make sure you check out all of our podcasts at Believeland Media LLC! Click on the images below to access.