Rarely has their been a clearer case of addition by subtraction than Cleveland’s defenestration of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley:
Mayfield faced an awful Bengals defense coached (in part) by Hue Jackson, the awful former Browns coach who refused to give Mayfield first-team reps in training camp, clamped him to the bench at the start of the season and played tug-of-war with offensive coordinator Todd Haley for the right to develop and/or take credit for Mayfield’s success while the rookie endured a midseason slide (which was caused by awful coaches feuding over him instead of helping him).
So Sunday’s performance was part exorcism of Jackson demons and part breakout performance. Mayfield was impressive in spurts earlier in the year, but he now has seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two starts. That kind of sustained excellence will attract top coaching candidates to Cleveland, help teammates develop (who knew Nick Chubb could catch?) and could be the catalyst for a long, long, long, long-awaited turnaround for the Browns.
It should be noted at the beginning of the season Jackson and Haley had not only Mayfield but Chubb anchored firmly to the bench, in the latter case for Carlos Hyde (who has earned exactly 3.4 Y/C for two different franchises this season. Hyde seems to have taken the Browns karma with him to Jacksonville.) And the Browns weren’t exactly shy about revealing their feelings about ol’ Hue:
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals had Jackson on the sideline in whatever title they gave him, but he was likely there mostly to feed Cincinnati information on the Browns. The Browns won 35-20 after flying out to a 35-7 lead. It was the Browns’ best performance in years. If the Bengals really would consider Jackson as a replacement for Marvin Lewis, all of that should be considered first.
Here’s what it seems like happened in Cleveland, and almost overnight: The Browns went from a bad coach to something less than bad, and suddenly look like a pretty strong team.
The first game without Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was also fired in late October, the Browns trailed the Chiefs 21-15 at halftime and eventually lost 37-21. The Chiefs are 9-2; there’s nothing wrong with losing to them. Then the Browns beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-16 and blew out the Bengals. The players’ icy reactions to Jackson on Sunday said a lot.
“You can put your own spin on it, but we have the same players,” Mayfield said after the game. “We have people we believe in calling the plays now.”
If you want to pour water on what the Browns are doing because the Falcons and Bengals aren’t good, that’s fine. But there are many worse teams in the NFL than Atlanta and Cincinnati, and the Browns couldn’t beat anyone under Jackson. Before Sunday they had lost 25 straight road games, one short of the NFL record.
The player who has benefited most from Jackson’s departure is Baker Mayfield, which is really damning on Jackson because he’s an offensive-minded head coach. Jackson didn’t want to start Mayfield at all this season, he said repeatedly in the offseason, and only turned to Mayfield when Tyrod Taylor got hurt. Mayfield was phenomenal on Sunday. He was 17 of 21 for 245 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. It’s the most yards for a Browns quarterback in the first half since the franchise re-entered the NFL in 1999. Mayfield ended with 258 yards and four touchdowns, and would have had some huge numbers if the Bengals were competitive. But Mayfield didn’t have to pass much in a blowout win (when’s the last time that happened for the Browns?). After Mayfield threw a touchdown to give the Browns a 35-7 lead early in the third quarter, he attempted only four more passes.
Mayfield is doing this with offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who had never called plays in a regular-season game before he was pressed into duty following Haley’s firing. Kitchens is doing a good job, but a rookie quarterback is thriving with a play-caller who has even less experience than he does. Against the Falcons, Mayfield completed 17-of-20 passes for 216 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His two best NFL performances, in terms of rating, have happened his past two games. After his offensive-based head coach and offensive coordinator were fired. Mayfield’s future looks really bright. He was outstanding on Sunday.
I mean, imagine how bad a head coach you have to be for the team to substantially improve by giving the job to Gregg Williams. The detail that the Bengals are seriously considering Hue is hilarious — it’s well past time for Marv to go, but that’s a reminder than the next Cincinnati coach is much more likely to be worse than better.
Speaking of bad coaches, as CF recently observed in comments the annual fluffing of Josh McDaniels has commenced:
Five weeks from now, a half-dozen or so NFL teams are going to be looking for new head coaches, and most of them are going to want their candidates to be guys who know how to score points.
There’s a guy with the New England Patriots who knows how to do it. And before you laugh off the notion that any NFL team would trust Josh McDaniels enough to bring him in for an interview after what he did in Indianapolis 10 months ago, you need to understand the landscape.
Baggage and all, McDaniels’ talents as a coach and playcaller make him a very interesting candidate for teams that will find themselves in the head-coaching market in January. It’s rough out there if you’re looking for the next offensive coaching wunderkind. The list of guys with McDaniels’ credentials is pretty short, and demand for those kinds of guys isn’t fading away.
Sure, he was a complete disaster in his first head coaching gig, and sure Belichick’s coaching tree is more of a particularly arid desert, and sure he hasn’t even had success as a coordinator outside of New England, and sure just last year he went back on his word to Indianapolis after hiring a staff, but…wait, why are we talking about him as a head coach again?