CLEVELAND, Ohio — In this week’s edition of my Browns’ mailbag, I answer questions about Baker Mayfield in the play-action attack, his timing with Odell Beckham Jr. and more. Some of the questions from our Football Insider subscribers, with whom we recently conducted a pre-draft Zoom call. If you’d like a two-week free trial to see what it’s all about, text us at 216-208-3965.
Hey, Mary Kay: I know generally the difference between a drop-back passing attack and a play-action passing attack, but what are the specifics and why is a play-action attack supposed to be so much better for Baker Mayfield? — Ron Martin, Boise, Idaho
Hey, Ron: The use of play-action, in which Mayfield fakes a handoff to the running back, is designed to give him more time and space to operate and to create big plays downfield. More play-action and the outside zone running game will give Mayfield ample time to throw, and when he has it, he’s deadly accurate. The Browns have supplied him with offensive linemen that can move well and execute the outside zone, and that coupled with more run fakes should result in a much higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions and more big plays.
The scheme, the same one run by Kyle Shanahan here and elsewhere, has resulted in tremendous production for quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo, and Mayfield can expect a similar jump this season. His 2019 stats tell the story: in play action, he completed 66.5% of his passes with 11 TDs, 6 INTs and a 102.5 rating; in no play action, he completed 56.4% of his attempts with 11 TDs, 15 INTs and a 68.8 rating.
Hey, Mary Kay: Wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea seems like a no-nonsense type of coach. Do you think he can develop rookie diamonds in the rough like 6th round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones, while at the same time keeping loose cannons like Odell Beckham Jr. under control? — Dave, Waterville OH
Hey, Dave: I believe the Browns receivers already respect O’Shea because of his amazing track record with receivers such as Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Randy Moss and Brandin Cooks, who all eclipsed 1,000 yards under his guidance, and because of his three Super Bowl rings. Edelman also won Super Bowl MVP honors with O’Shea as his position coach. He already seems to have won over Jarvis Landry by showing how he can excel on option routes out of the slot like Edelman does. He’s already demonstrated that he can develop a young receiver like a Donovan Peoples-Jones as well as handle big personalities like Moss. Landry and Beckham miss their longtime coach Adam Henry, but seem ready to embrace O’Shea, who worked with Kevin Stefanski in Minnesota as entry-level assistants under Brad Childress.
Hey Mary Kay: At this point in time, is the NFL more likely to have a season than not? How optimistic are you we will have a Browns season? I need it! Cleveland, Ohio — Chad Sonkin, Cleveland, Ohio
Hey, Chad: I believe the NFL will begin on time and make every attempt to play a full season through the Super Bowl. No one knows for sure if this will happen, but that’s the goal, and the NFL will work extremely hard with teams, with states and with the NFLPA to provide a safe environment for the players, fans and employees. If there’s an interruption in the season, there are contingency plans in place for that. But as you can see, the NFL forged ahead through free agency and the draft when most thought it was impossible. The difficult part might be states that have stricter rules about what can and can’t take place. Fortunately for the NFL, it still has time on its side.
Hey, Mary Kay: How come the Browns never consider putting real skill players at punt return like Odell Beckham Jr.? — Darnell Clark, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Hey, Darnell: The Browns used Landry on punt returns last season, with eight fair catches and five returned for 53 yards. Odell Beckham Jr. also returned one. Mike Priefer would gladly use them more, but both are coming off surgeries this year, and it’s doubtful the Browns will risk them much on special teams this year, at least in the early going. The Browns have other good candidate to return punts this season, including receivers JoJo Natson and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Hey, Mary Kay: Will Baker Mayfield be able to get his timing down this year with Odell Beckham Jr. if Beckham doesn’t work out with him in the offseason and can’t practice much in training camp? — 216
Hey, 216: Beckham always says timing is something that comes with time together in games when the heat is on, and doesn’t put much stock in non-contact timing in practice. Hopefully for them, they’ll build on 2019, when they connected for more than 1,000 yards together, and hopefully for them, Beckham will be healthy right from the start after undergoing core muscle surgery in January.
Hey, Mary Kay: Based on JC Tretter’s words this week and knowing his position in the NFLPA, do you sense an upcoming conflict between players and league and a possible strike? — Kevin, St. Louis, Mo.
Hey, Kevin: I don’t envision a strike, but I do think the NFLPA will work diligently to ensure its players are as safe as possible before they take the field. As Tretter, president of the NFLPA pointed out, “it’s a contact virus and we play a contact sport.” Players are concerned about their wellbeing and that of their families. They’ll need some reassurance that they won’t be exposed to Covid-19 on the playing field and a sound plan for if someone tests positive. Tretter has a monumental task ahead of him of making sure the players feel confident returning to the field in the fall. He also noted that many players have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable. There’s so much more contact in football than in any other sport, so resuming play won’t be easy.
Hey, Mary Kay: What is truly the biggest need of the Cleveland Browns at this point? — Jeff Warner, New Philadelphia, Ohio
Hey, Jeff: I don’t think the Browns have a glaring need anywhere, but they do have a few positions without a big-name or established player. One of those is linebacker, where they have second-year pros in Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki, a rookie in LSU’s Jacob Phillips and a four-year veteran in B.J. Goodson. It’s an area where the Browns could probably still use some depth. The right guard spot is also still up for grabs, with contenders such as Wyatt Teller, Drew Forbes and fifth-round pick Nick Harris. For the most part, GM Andrew Berry has filled a lot of holes in one offseason.
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