When a quarterback has a disastrous game, the fault formula for that disaster is generally part quarterback, part receivers, and part offensive line. Football is the ultimate team sport, and no horrible outing is usually one person’s fault.
In the case of Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, it was everybody’s problem. In a 26-14 loss, Mayfield completed 16 passes on 38 attempts for 185 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, nine sacks, and a passer rating of 53.1. We’ve discussed at length all the issues with Cleveland’s offense this season, and generally speaking, we’ve let the offensive line off the hook. But we can’t do so in this case.
Yes, Mayfield had some errant throws. Yes, his receivers dropped passes. But the primary instigators of this particular offensive malady were the five guys up front. Steelers edge-monster T.J. Watt racked up four sacks, mostly against overwhelmed right tackle James Hudson, but Hudson wasn’t the only problem, and Mayfield brought that up after the game.
“I’m not going to get into too many details about that as a full season evaluation,” the quarterback said when asked about the round-robin at the right tackle position due to injury. “We’ve, obviously, been pretty banged up. I believe in James — I pray to God you guys don’t spin this into something where I’m criticizing James Hudson. That’s not what I’m doing. We’re talking about an All-Pro that he’s going up against and he hasn’t had very many starts. So I’m proud of James. He kept swinging, he kept fighting.
“Now, when it comes to, what we’ve had to deal with all season, there’s been a lot of ups and downs. You know, do I believe I can play better? Absolutely. Do I believe there’s better that we as an offense could have been put in that are better? Absolutely. There’s so many critiques throughout the year, if there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be sitting here at 7-9. So, it is what it is.”
Was Hudson a problem? Absolutely. Was he the only problem along the front five in this game? Absolutely not. Everybody on that line, including and especially guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, who in most weeks could be called the NFL’s best guard duo, had games they’d like to forget.
We’re going to spend all kinds of time this offseason discussing Mayfield’s future, and whether he’s the best quarterback option for the Browns, but this whomping wasn’t nearly as much Mayfield’s fault as some might prefer to believe.