BEREA, Ohio — The Baltimore Ravens embarked on a mission this offseason to support second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson in every way possible, and it’s paying huge dividends with a 12-2 record, a second straight AFC North title, and probably an NFL MVP award for Jackson.
The Browns, on the other hand, didn’t provide Baker Mayfield with the same support, and it’s resulted in a 6-8 record and a step back for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick.
If the Browns are to make the playoffs next season, they must help Mayfield reach his potential. As it stands, he’s at or near the bottom of the NFL in key categories such as rating (30th at 78.7), completion percentage (28th at 60.1) and interceptions (third-most in the NFL with 17). It’s unacceptable.
The Browns did significantly upgrade their talent with the addition of Pro Bowlers Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt, but they didn’t supply the coaching needed for Mayfield to make that 20-25% jump GM John Dorsey expected.
They paired their elite offensive talent with an inexperienced play-caller in Freddie Kitchens, who had never been a head coach or full-time coordinator at any level. They gave Mayfield a first-year quarterbacks coach in Ryan Lindley, and hired an offensive coordinator in Todd Monken who’s well-versed in the Air Raid scheme that Mayfield ran in college, but didn’t let him call the plays.
That’s not to say that Kitchens and Lindley won’t grow into their roles, but they were on a learning curve this season. As a result, the Browns struggled to find their identity, still can’t get lined up properly and couldn’t maximize the talent of their top players.
Meanwhile, the Ravens’ John Harbaugh promoted Greg Roman, one of the NFL’s most respected offensive minds, to offensive coordinator. Roman coordinated Jim Harbaugh’s offense from 2011-14 in San Francisco, where he coached dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He also spent two seasons as the Bills’ offensive coordinator.
Roman, in his third season on the Ravens’ staff, has drawn rave reviews for tailoring his scheme to Jackson’s strengths. The Ravens are No. 2 in overall offense, and No. 1 in points per game. Jackson is the No. 3 quarterback in the NFL with a 112.8 rating, with 33 touchdowns against only six interceptions. He’s eighth with 1,103 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Always be a first-rate version of yourself, rather than a second-rate version of somebody else,’” Roman said via sportscasting.com. “So, I think we just went to work and really tried to figure out who we were. We just kind of stay in our lane and do our thing, and that’s what we’re focused on — improvement, trying to get better — and we recognize the challenge we have.”
The Ravens also have an experienced QB coach in James Urban, who tutored Michael Vick in Philadelphia in 2010 under Andy Reid. Together, Roman and Urban have developed Jackson into as much of a passer as a runner.
“You can’t win in this league at quarterback if you can’t throw the ball really, really well,’’ Harbaugh said on a conference call this week. “We felt like he had a tremendous amount of arm talent, and he displayed that every chance he got. He was never afraid to throw in different situations and different workouts. He just went out there and did it, and I thought that kind of boded well for how he was going to grow as a player.”
Roman’s masterful job hasn’t been lost on another brilliant offensive mind in Rams head coach Sean McVay.
“I think what (Roman’s) done such a great job of, is he’s adjusted the scheme to fit the personnel and to maximize guys’ opportunities to make plays and do what they do best,” McVay told nbcsports.com “That’s a sign of a great coach.”
The Ravens also surrounded Jackson with plenty of weapons — tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, and running back Mark Ingram (963 yards and 10 TDs). Andrews and Brown, who were Mayfield’s targets at Oklahoma, have combined for 15 touchdowns this season. Beckham (2) and Jarvis Landry (5), who have eight Pro Bowls between them, have combined for less than half that.
“Right then and there, it was a sign that they’re going to build a system around him,” former Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III, now Jackson’s backup, told nbcsports.com. “They’re going to help him develop but they’re also going to help him do things he does really really well. That’s a sure sign to a young player that not only are they saying it, but they’re taking actions that show that they believe in him.”
Does Mayfield believe the Browns have done enough for him?
“I think it’s two different scenarios,’’ he said Wednesday. “Where we were coming from and where Baltimore was coming from building on a defense, they had already had a bunch of veterans there and we brought in a lot of new pieces, so it’s just about the process. They’re doing a good job offensively of how they’re calling it. It’s two different scenarios.’’
Mayfield was also asked if he felt he did enough in the offseason to improve.
“I think I can crank it up a notch within OTAs, and that goes for everyone that is here,’’ he said. “When it’s OTAs, the voluntary minicamps and stuff like that, it needs to be driven towards stuff that is actually going to help us in the year. You do not need to waste reps and your time when we are here in the spring.
“That time is valuable to nail down what we are going to do offensively to where when we come back for training camp, you hit it running. It is just about efficiently doing your work in the offseason. I feel like I did that. It is just a matter of then translating it come fall.”
The Browns were still in the process of blending offensive philosophies last spring. While they were in the process of figuring it out, they didn’t have Beckham here or a healthy Landry (hip) to start getting the timing down. Consequently, Mayfield spent much of the season learning on the fly, both in terms of the collaborative scheme and his personnel.
Meanwhile, Jackson was laser-focused on getting better.
“He just worked at it,’’ said Harbaugh. “When he came back, the offseason program, the OTAs, minicamp and all those things were organized by us and our coaches.’’
Jackson’s improvement hasn’t been lost on Mayfield, who led the Browns past the Ravens 40-25 in the first meeting with a 342-yard passing game but has gone 4-6 since then. Jackson’s Ravens have won 10 straight.
“He’s killing it, obviously,’’ Mayfield said. “The MVP chants are well deserved. It’s very obvious. He’s had a lot of improvement in the passing game, but it still starts with their run game and up front. They’re the most physical team. He’s worked very hard to get to where he is and he continues to improve, and that is why he is having a good season.”
Harbaugh, a candidate for NFL Coach of the Year, isn’t convinced that another team would be getting as much out of Jackson, who broke Vick’s 13-year single-season QB record of 1,039 rushing yards.
“Go back and see what we were saying last summer, last offseason and all of that about our plans,’’ Harbaugh said. “It’s nothing we did not say that we were not going to try to do. That’s been the plan and I feel like we’ve been committed to it 100 percent. Obviously, the results speak for themselves to this point. The league is ever-changing, ever-evolving and we have to do the same and try as much as we can to keep pace and stay ahead of the pace.’’
The Browns need to take a page from that playbook in the offseason.
More Browns coverage
Like what you’re reading? You want more? Subscribe to Football Insider for exclusive Browns content, including daily texts from Mary Kay Cabot and cleveland.com’s entire coverage team. Register quickly below using your phone number.