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Would Baker Mayfield have led Browns to win over Steelers?

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This is an obvious question making its rounds in the aftermath of Cleveland’s Week 1 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Tyrod Taylor didn’t endear himself to Cleveland Browns fans in his first start with the team against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But there are a ton of factors to consider before even discussing a quarterback change so early in a season, including the team’s long-term stability.

But that hasn’t stopped the speculation around whether the Browns might been more efficient offensively with Baker Mayfield behind center, which hypothetically might have given them a better shot at dethroning the Steelers.

Shortly following the tie, I received numerous calls, texts, e-mails, and Tweets about what might have been if Mayfield had played instead of Taylor. The majority of them favored moving on from Taylor immediately.

Now, FS1’s Skip Bayless may not bring the most credibility to the table. We know how Bayless and others in his industry use shocking and polarizing sports takes to drive their business. The hyperbole and generalizations are the medium they work with and are an unfortunate part of the deal if you follow those outlets.

So, in what we can label the most unsurprising thing that happened in Week 1, Bayless led the charge supporting Mayfield starting over Taylor.

Again, we know what this is, and it isn’t nuanced analysis. It’s Bayless stirring the pot and drawing more attention to himself. His general thesis is that Mayfield is more of a playmaker, so the Browns would have won the football game.

There are so many problems with using that as support for your opinion, too many probably to list here. Interested by his attention grabbing Tweet, I decided to poll my followers to see where everyone else stands on the issue.

I’d say I’m shocked at the results, but I’m not. Out of 875 votes (as of the time of this post), the overwhelming majority thinks the Browns would have won if Mayfield started the game. Not given the Browns a better shot to win, but would have won the game.

Now, I am not going to defend Taylor’s play on Sunday. It was categorically insufficient to lead a team to a win in the NFL, but he should have been good enough to win given the team’s defensive success.

The idea that Mayfield is a bigger playmaker than Taylor is opinion, not a fact. Mayfield has never played a down in the NFL, and Taylor’s legs and improvisation skills sure looked like the traits of playmaker, to these eyes at least.

But we do know playing quarterback at a high level, or even a level proficient enough to win a game in which the Steelers gifted you on a silver platter, requires more than mobility and playmaking with your legs. Taylor, for the most part, looked slow in processing his reads and didn’t trust himself enough to make throws that were there—whether that was a result of the weather of his own decisionmaking. And there were some opportunities he saw and passed on in which maybe he could have pulled the trigger instead of taking seven sacks and being chased outside the pocket all afternoon.

Was his offensive line perfect? Negative, they weren’t even good for much of the game. They had plenty of assignment lapses and lost battles, but Taylor had plenty of his own mistakes in failing to recognize pre-snap reads and also in understanding what the Steelers defense was doing to beat him.

In short, it’s easy to conclude Taylor was not very good in Week 1 when using any kind of metric for evaluating quarterbacks. He made a couple good throws, missed a bunch of others, and ultimately threw a poor ball that could have put the Browns in position to win the game in regulation.

He didn't, and they didn’t. He left it short of the sideline and Josh Gordon was boxed out by the defensive back despite having a step on him down the sideline.

If Taylor makes that one throw, the Browns probably win, but there are no guarantees. I digress.

The idea that Mayfield would have fared better, though, is an interesting but highly problematic proposition. Although he was the No. 1 pick, Mayfield was not groomed to start in Week 1—that’s a different conversation, we can only talk about the reality here—having played extremely sparingly with the first-team offense prior to the game.

Should he have started? Maybe if Jackson had approached things differently and prepared for that possibility, but he didn’t, and Mayfield didn’t play. That alone makes me inclined to reject this question.

But just for the sake of argument, would the Browns have won the game if Mayfield had been properly prepared?

Throughout preseason Mayfield has flashed a strong arm and the awareness of a savvy vet. He hasn’t been perfect, although his ability to move up and make throws from the pocket has been promising for a rookie quarterback. He has put in the work and knows the playbook enough to deploy Todd Haley’s game plan.

While he appears to be progressing, Mayfield hasn’t handled a live game situation against a defense specifically designed to defeat his team’s offensive tendencies, and his own. The main way to overcome that obstacle is to play, sure, but was Sunday against Pittsburgh the best opportunity for him to start and to succeed?

The weather was awful, including swirling winds and persistent rain showers. It wasn’t a passing friendly environment, and Taylor fared about as you’d expect under the conditions. OK, maybe he was a little worse.

We’re not going to debate the merits of starting a rookie quarterback from his first game, mainly because there are valid arguments on each side, and every player is different.

But I’ll say this, I’m not as sure as many that Mayfield would have made a significant difference in this particular game, whether or not he was prepared to be the starter or not. That isn’t to say he won’t and can’t help the Browns be better offensively, but maybe it’s best to let him keep learning from Taylor in order to ensure he’s ready when his number is called. That’s true whether that time is next week, half-way through the season, or next year.

If Taylor continues to struggle, and the Browns can’t play competitive football offensively, there's at least a conversation that needs to happen as to his progress and whether the organization believes it’s time to start his career.

That time wasn’t in Week 1, and it probably didn’t matter as far as the game’s outcome. Things could have also gone even worse with a rookie starting his first game in a torrential downpour, so keep that in mind.

This is a very simple poll, requiring only a “yes” or “no” response, but I encourage you to support your choice in the comments below if you’re so inclined.

Poll

Would the Browns have won if Baker Mayfield started against Steelers in Week 1?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Yes
    (1358 votes)
  • 40%
    No
    (938 votes)
2296 votes total Vote Now