Yours truly owes Baker Mayfield and the Los Angeles Rams an apology. Logically speaking, it wouldn’t make sense for Mayfield to look like half the player he was on Thursday Night Football. In Carolina, the plucky first pick from the 2018 NFL Draft was statistically the worst starting QB in the NFL.
He could not digest the playbook and build a rapport with receivers in just two days. But he did. Or, at least, he didn’t have to.
Baker Mayfield Magic
Things looked grim for the Rams with just 1:45 left on the game clock and 98 yards to punch the ball into the end zone with no timeouts.
An interception on third down would have ended the game had Amik Robertson not held on to Van Jefferson for deal life along the route stem. The throw itself may have been completed without the hold, even as a pass rusher clocked Mayfield.
Then the Rams got a gift from Jerry Tillery. Max Crosby came blistering off the edge and sacked Mayfield on the next play, but Tillery decided to play patty cake with the football and knock it out of Mayfield’s hands well after the play was over, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That negated a nine-yard loss, a loss of down, and a running game clock.
Then, the Mayfield magic showed up. Mayfield’s arm has never been a problem. And when he isn’t pressured and remains mechanically sound, and in rhythm, he has a good NFL arm. And he used that arm on a vertical route along the sideline to Ben Skowronek for 32 yards.
From the broadcast view, it’s impossible to tell for sure, but it looks like the Raiders were playing Cover 5 against the Rams on that play. Tyler Higbee was freed up on a natural rub by a vertical route up the seam for what would have been an easy completion and first down to stop the clock, but Mayfield saw Skowronek and must’ve liked the size mismatch on the outside.
Getting the ball there in time before Trevon Moehrig was able to jump the route is impressive, given he practically threw this 30 yards downfield from the opposite hash. It arrived just a blink before the safety could rotate over to make a play.
After a dump-off on first-and-10 to get nine yards and a crossing route to Skowronek for the first down, the Rams clocked the ball at the 22-yard line with just 15 seconds left and no timeouts.
What Patrick Graham decided to call defensively next has me questioning everything I thought I loved about the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. “Outsmarting himself” could be one way to put it. Even Mayfield said on the Amazon Prime postgame show that he was surprised to see this look.
But with just 15 seconds and no timeouts, having just one defensive back with five yards of depth at the snap of the ball is an egregious mistake. Forcing defensive backs to play with their backs to the ball in this situation without safety help is a fireable offense.
Mayfield and Jefferson took full advantage of that. Sam Webb, an undrafted free agent from the 2022 class, was in press coverage against Jefferson. Duran Harmon sprinted back to depth at the snap with his hips inside, looking to take away any deep crossing pattern from the strength of the 3×1 formation. It was a pitch and catch a yard into the end zone.
Maybe Baker was made for Hollywood.
Other Takeaways From Mayfield’s First Outing With the Rams
Mayfield looked far more comfortable on Thursday than he had at any point in Carolina. His first pass was an intermediate strike to a wide-open Jefferson off play action. Sean McVay kept Mayfield moving, for the most part, using play-action and bootlegs to keep Mayfield in a rhythm.
He finished with seven completions of more than 10 air yards, and four of those were deeper than 20 yards.
Things weren’t always pretty for Mayfield and the Rams on Thursday night. He skipped a few rocks in the pond as he and receivers had misunderstandings about route depth and timing, and his mechanical flaws showed up on a few other throws. But for two drives with the game hanging in the balance, Mayfield offered us something we hadn’t gotten from him since before he injured his shoulder; hope.
The former first-overall pick isn’t auditioning for the Rams’ starting gig in 2023 unless Stafford decides to hang up his cleats. However, these last five games of the season are an audition for all teams around the league looking either for a reclamation project or a stop-gap in 2023.
The Rams were the only team to claim Mayfield on Tuesday. But if he keeps playing the way he did just two days later, the fish will bite in the offseason.