The Cleveland Browns entered the 2019 season with lofty expectations. They appeared to have their quarterback of the future in Baker Mayfield, they acquired star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. via trade and hired a new coach in Freddie Kitchens.
The Browns couldn't even fully enjoy their first drive of the season, however, as kicker Austin Seibert missed the extra point after an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. From that point, Cleveland's season went downhill.
The Tennessee Titans went on to score 12 unanswered points in the first half of the season opener and 31 total points in the second half on their way to a 43-13, Week 1 win over the Browns. It was just the first of many blows Cleveland suffered last season, as they finished with a disappointing 6-10 record. Kitchens was fired, Beckham Jr. didn't have the immediate impact many were expecting and Mayfield took a step backwards. After throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 14 games during his rookie season, the former No. 1 overall pick threw for 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 2019.
Despite the sophomore slump, we all know Mayfield is gearing up for a bounce-back season in 2020.
Marc Sessler of NFL Media says there were just too many things working against Mayfield. Sessler sat down with Pix Six Podcast host Will Brinson to discuss the outlook for the Browns' 2020 campaign and why we should expect Mayfield to improve. (Fire up Friday's episode below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness).
"I think it was a terrible situation for Baker Mayfield to be in," Sessler said. "From the quarterback coach up, I just think it was too much turnover and a lack of direction and the one thing about Kevin Stefanski. ... I do trust the fact that the analytics wing of their building two years in a row wanted Stefanski and he's come in and I do think this new staff and Alex Van Pelt working with Baker have put in very defined goals for each player."
Stefanski, who is now the third youngest head coach in the NFL, is charged with unlocking this offense, which has the potential to be one of the best in the league in 2020. Much of the blame was thrown in Mayfield's direction after last season, but the offensive line certainly did not help him out much. Mayfield was sacked 40 times in 2019, and Cleveland suffered inconsistencies from both the left and right tackle positions. The Browns did a great job addressing those issues this offseason, as they drafted Jedrick Wills Jr. in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft and signed former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin in free agency.
"It was a huge problem," Sessler said about the Browns' offensive line in 2019. "I think it got into Baker Mayfield's head too. I can only imagine that you still feel the pain of like a 320-pound behemoth landing on top of your body six times in the first game of the season. The offense kind of has the ability I think to mimic what the Vikings did because you got two great running backs, you have the line fixed -- I think it's a tight end centric offense."
With Stefanski now in charge, maybe the 2020 season is the one where we should expect the Browns to take a big step forward. The NFL world saw what Mayfield was capable of during his rookie season, and this offense clearly possesses talent on paper. Now, they potentially have someone who can put it all together.
Mayfield doesn't have to be the absolute No. 1 star on Cleveland's offense. The Browns have two great running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, a talented wide receiving corps and two nice tight ends in Austin Hooper and David Njoku. A solid run game will open the passing game and the play action as well. Mayfield and Stefanski are going to have plenty of options when it comes to spreading the wealth next season.
"I think the play action approach for Baker Mayfield -- and they have been working on his footwork -- so this coaching staff wanted to get in and fix things that were a problem last year," Sessler said. "There is no reason that Baker Mayfield in this offense has to go out and do it all on his own. I keep hearing over and over that it is this make-or-break season where if Baker Mayfield isn't like a young Joe Montana that he's out the door. Well, it is also a team still building and in process and we live in an age where a third-year quarterback better be fully developed and Patrick Mahomes-ish or we have issues."
Whether Mayfield shows that kind of improvement or not in 2020, Sessler expects the Browns to improve and be in the mix for a playoff spot this season.
"For Cleveland, they were 6-10 a year ago in a perfect storm of just absolute nonsense, so I would like to see 10-6," Sessler said. "Whether they make the playoffs or not, 10-6 to me would be a really, really promising future note."