Baker Mayfield did not even begin to entertain questions that he is a better quarterback without Odell Beckham Jr. during his virtual meeting with the media on Wednesday. Mayfield, who won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing five touchdowns in last Sunday's come-from-behind win over the Bengals, did most of that damage without Beckham, who tore his ACL during the first quarter of Sunday's game. Beckham, who has caught 97 of 176 targets for 1,354 yards and 14 touchdowns during his first 23 games with the Browns, will miss the remainder of the 2020 season.
Given Mayfield's performance without Beckham on Sunday, along with the success Mayfield enjoyed without having the star receiver as his teammate during his rookie season, a narrative has grown that the Browns quarterback is better without Beckham, a three-time Pro Bowler who eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards during his first season with Mayfield. While it was certainly a fair question to ask given his production, Mayfield felt that, given Beckham's serious injury, it was a question that shouldn't be asked.
"For one, I think it's just completely insensitive to a guy who just tore his ACL," Mayfield said. "I'm not even gonna comment on it. You never wanna lose guys, and that's where I'm going to leave that one."
Mayfield, who will look to help the Browns improve to 6-2 this Sunday at home against the 3-3 Raiders, was willing to discuss how the Browns' offense will change without Beckham. While he acknowledged that losing Beckham will impact the offense, Mayfield said that the Browns will continue to play to their strengths while making the necessary adjustments to how defenses will play them moving forward.
"It's just awful losing a guy like that. We believe we have a great team, that's why were going to ask multiple guys to step in and try to fill that void," Mayfield said. "We're still going to lean on the running game, we're still going to lean on the play-action, and trust the guys to make on-one-plays when they're there. Without him, there might not be as many one-on-one opportunities, but that just means that we have to be more efficiency in zone coverage and things like that to make those plays."
As Mayfield noted, the Browns' offense has been buoyed by a rushing attack that is currently third in the league in yards gained. With 2019 Pro Bowler Nick Chubb missing Cleveland's last three games with a knee injury (Chubb will be re-evaluated following the Browns' Week 9 bye), the Browns' running game has been led by Kareem Hunt, who amassed 102 all-purpose yards and a score on 21 touches in Sunday's win over Cincinnati. On Sunday, the Browns will face a Raiders defense that is dead last in the NFL against the run.
Mayfield also exuded confidence in his other receivers. While he wishes the circumstances were different, Mayfield said that he is excited that Rashard Higgins will receive more playing time. A five-year veteran, Higgins caught all six of his targets for 110 yards in Sunday's win. Mayfield also spoke highly of rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones, a sixth-round pick who on Sunday caught his first career touchdown reception. Mayfield said that Peoples-Jones was one of the Browns' receivers who trained with Mayfield in Austin, Texas during the offseason.
"He's been locked in on terminology and learning the offense a lot quicker than rookie receivers would be," Mayfield said of Peoples-Jones, who caught 14 touchdowns and 103 passes in three years at Michigan. "He's all about his work, all about his business."
Mayfield also still has Jarvis Landry, a five-time Pro Bowler who currently leads the team in catches and receiving yards. Tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku have also served as reliable targets, while rookie tight end Harrison Bryant has also seen his role increase in recent weeks, especially on Sunday with Hooper sidelined. This depth at the skill positions is why Mayfield is confident that the Browns can continue to have success with Beckham on the mend.
"We believe in the guys that we have," Mayfield said of Cleveland's skill position players. "That's why they're here. We're going to expect them to step up and do what they're capable of. Nothing more, nothing less."