The Cleveland Browns had much to celebrate on Sunday. Their upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was their first playoff win since the 1994 season and their first win in Heinz Field since 2003. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the road doesn’t get easier from here. They face the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Divisional Round, and Browns QB Baker Mayfield will need to be far more impactful if they want a chance at winning.
Baker Mayfield’s statistics seem impressive, but don’t tell the full story
Mayfield’s box score from Sunday would suggest that he had a great day against the Pittsburgh defense. He threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns — an excellent outing for any quarterback. However, traditional statistics don’t always accurately reflect how much value a player provided to their offense.
That’s why we will be using the Offensive Value Metric (OVM) to measure Mayfield’s play. The OVM was created by the (Bx) Movement to evaluate players based on how much influence they had over their own statistics. Therefore, it can be used as a measure of how much impact they had on their offense overall.
Unlike the box score, the OVM does not cast Mayfield in a favorable light. He was the metric’s lowest-graded quarterback from Wild Card Weekend by a wide margin. At just 14.58, his grade was almost 10 points lower than the next qualifying quarterback. A grade that low indicates that Mayfield did not provide much value to Cleveland’s offense despite what his impressive box score might suggest.
Why Baker Mayfield’s OVM grade was so low
In order to explain why Mayfield’s grade doesn’t match his traditional statistics, we need to look at the advanced metrics that go into calculating a quarterback’s OVM grade. Given his poor grade, it should be no surprise that he performed poorly on most of them.
Mayfield threw into tight windows on 14.7% of his pass attempts, less often than all but three of the 12 quarterbacks who qualified for a grade over the weekend. He also threw the ball 6.9 yards downfield on average, tied for the second-worst among those 12.
Baker Mayfield’s completion percentage of 61.8%, which ranked seventh, seems more reasonable on the surface, even if it isn’t anything spectacular. However, the NFL’s calculations indicate that the Browns QB should have completed 70.9% of his passes. That means, on 9.1% of his pass attempts, Mayfield missed on throws that should have resulted in completions. That differential was the third-worst in the NFL during Wild Card Weekend.
Overall, while Mayfield wasn’t last weekend’s worst-performing quarterback on any particular metric, no other quarterback was as ineffective across the board as he was.
To be clear, neither I nor the OVM is suggesting that Mayfield played poorly on Sunday. He simply didn’t have much of an impact on the Browns offense. Fortunately, with Pittsburgh practically giving the game away in the first quarter and the rest of Cleveland’s offense playing at a high level, he didn’t need to. However, the same likely won’t be true against the Chiefs.
Mayfield’s low grade during Wild Card Weekend isn’t reflective of his entire season
The OVM hasn’t been negative on Mayfield all season. His overall grade during the regular season was higher, at 24.73. That’s still only about average when compared to the rest of the NFL. However, it is far better than what the Browns QB showed against the Steelers.
In fact, with the exception of his throws into tight coverage, all of Mayfield’s metrics from Wild Card Weekend rank below his season averages. In several cases, the margins aren’t huge, but the Browns QB is clearly capable of better than what he showed on Sunday.
Baker Mayfield’s weekly OVM grades varied greatly
Looking at how Mayfield’s grades shifted as the season has progressed can also give Cleveland’s fans some reasons for optimism. The chart below shows how his grade changed from week to week. The black dots represent his weekly grades, while the yellow line represents the average grade for quarterbacks during the regular season. That vertical dashed line represents a week when Mayfield received a negative grade, an uncommon sight on these charts.
It goes without saying that Mayfield’s grades were extremely inconsistent, perhaps more so than any other quarterback. They ranged from a low of -6.65 all the way up to a high of 47.46. Those were the third-lowest and fourth-highest grades received by any quarterback this season. And even aside from those two extremes, Mayfield showed significant variance from week to week.
In a vacuum, that pattern is not a good sign for Cleveland. It shows that low-impact performances, like the one Mayfield had on Sunday, aren’t uncommon for him. If that happens again against the Chiefs, the Browns might be in trouble.
On the other hand, Mayfield’s weekly grades prove that the Browns QB can be a high-level contributor. Many of his games were above-average, with the occasional elite performance sprinkled in. Cleveland will need that version of Mayfield to show up against Kansas City.
Baker Mayfield needs to have a more substantial impact in Kansas City
Mayfield won despite his low-value performance against Pittsburgh thanks to unprecedented circumstances. Cleveland’s 28-point first quarter had never happened in the playoffs before and is unlikely to happen again a week later. And even if it does, the Chiefs have proven time and time again that they are capable of overcoming enormous deficits.
Without that advantage, Mayfield won’t be able to simply sit back and let the rest of his team carry him to victory. He doesn’t need to put the offense on his back; it isn’t built with him as their focal point anyway. However, if the Browns are going to pull off their second upset in a row, they will need more help from their young QB.
Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.