Baker Mayfield with and without Odell Beckham Jr.: Breaking down Browns QB’s pass tendencies with star WR

Odell Beckham Jr. has established himself as one of the league’s premier talents at wide receiver.

From his route running, dazzling play-making ability and breakaway speed, there are few that can match his abilities.

Yet, as the wideout finds himself in the midst of his third season in Cleveland, it appears based on the numbers that Baker Mayfield is a worse quarterback when Beckham is playing. Take a look at the splits in Mayfield’s numbers since Beckham arrived between the wideout being on the field versus when he isn’t, prior to Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. With Beckham in the game: 40 touchdown passes, 28 interceptions and a completion percentage of 63.5 percent. Without Beckham, 12 touchdown passes, three interceptions and a 66.7 completion percentage.

Why does Mayfield appear to be a different quarterback with Beckham in the game? SN dives into the numbers.

Baker Mayfield with Odell Beckham Jr.

Having a dynamic wide receive like Beckham allows a quarterback to take some extra chances.

But it’s possible he might be taking too many chances.

According to data from NFL Savant, among Mayfield’s pass attempts with Beckham on the field, 21.8 percent were considered deep — 15 yards or more. He especially targeted the deep right zone, with 10.7 percent of his passes headed in that direction.

And it’s when he throws deep that he gets in trouble. Despite throwing deep just over 20 percent of the time, 46.4 percent of his interceptions with Beckham on the field have come when he tries to throw it deep, while only 22.5 percent of his touchdowns have come on deep throws. He has completed just 48 percent of his deep throws with Beckham in the game.

Made with Flourish

The deep right zone, in particular, has become a favorite of Mayfield’s when throwing to Beckham. Among the locations where Beckham has been targeted, 16.8 percent of the throws have been to the deep right compared to just 8.9 percent of targets for all other receivers.

Given Beckham’s success there in the past, it makes sense.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=818_M8gOnqQ

But the risk-reward of taking the deep shot to Beckham there has not paid off. Five times when Mayfield has thrown to Beckham in that part of the field he’s been picked off, while Beckham has hauled in just one touchdown in that region. Mayfield has just a 50 percent completion percentage when throwing to Beckham deep right. Compare that even to just short middle, where Beckham has been targeted only 12.6 percent of the time, but has caught two touchdowns while Mayfield has been intercepted twice.

Overall, Mayfield has thrown 10 interceptions when he’s targeted Beckham and has connected with him for just six touchdowns. Below is Mayfield’s passing when he targets Beckham:

Pass Type Pass Location TargetRate Interceptions Touchdowns Yards Completion Rate Yards Per Play
DEEP LEFT 23 10.75% 1 1 177 30.43% 7.696
DEEP MIDDLE 9 4.21% 0 1 118 44.44% 13.111
DEEP RIGHT 36 16.82% 5 1 412 50.00% 11.444
SHORT LEFT 50 23.36% 2 0 336 78.00% 6.720
SHORT MIDDLE 27 12.62% 2 2 238 59.26% 8.815
SHORT RIGHT 50 23.36% 0 1 276 58.00% 5.520

And here’s what happens overall when Beckham is playing, regardless if he is the targeted receiver or not.

Pass Type Pass Location TargetRate Interceptions Touchdowns Yards Completion Rate Yards Per Play
DEEP LEFT 55 6.42% 1 2 522 38.18% 9.491
DEEP MIDDLE 32 3.73% 5 3 554 68.75% 17.313
DEEP RIGHT 92 10.74% 7 4 1099 46.74% 11.946
SHORT LEFT 234 27.30% 5 8 1596 74.79% 6.821
SHORT MIDDLE 147 17.15% 8 9 1158 66.67% 7.878
SHORT RIGHT 262 30.57% 2 14 1433 62.21% 5.469

In 2019, there was no target on the Browns that led to more interceptions when thrown to than Beckham. Of Mayfield’s 21 interceptions, nine came when he tried to throw it Beckham’s way. He threw just eight picks in 2020 and Beckham played in just seven games before he tore his ACL. Three picks were in his direction.

It is worth noting that not all of this has to do with Mayfield making riskier decisions. There has also been some regression from Beckham. According to ProFootballFocus, Beckham received pass play grades above 80 in all but one season with the Giants. Since coming over to Cleveland, Beckham tallied a pass grade of 69.4 in 2019, 73.7 in 2020 and 72.4 so far in 2021.

Beckham has been hampered by injuries now twice in his career. He lost most of the 2017 season due to an ankle injury and he tore his ACL in 2019. Though still only 28, he might not be the same receiver he once was, and therefore, Mayfield shouldn’t view him as the guaranteed catch he might have once been before he arrived in Cleveland.

Baker Mayfield without Odell Beckham Jr.

It would make sense that without one of his top receivers, Mayfield would play a bit more conservatively.

And to an extent, he does. Based on the data, he attempts a deep pass only 18.8 percent of the time without Beckham on the field. A slight change, but a change nonetheless.

What’s most notable is perhaps his completion percentage and the dearth of interceptions. Mayfield completes 50.8 percent of his deep ball passes and has just one interception when he attempts those deep throws without Beckham on the field. He also has three touchdowns on those deep balls. Based on the rates, just 1.6 percent of Mayfield’s deep throws are picked off without Beckham on the field while 7.3 percent of his deep throws with Beckham out there are intercepted.

Take a look at Mayfield’s passing without Beckham on the field.

Pass Type Pass Location TargetRate Interceptions Touchdowns Yards Completion Rate Yards Per Play
DEEP LEFT 24 6.82% 0 0 296 41.67% 12.333
DEEP MIDDLE 6 1.70% 1 0 114 66.67% 19.000
DEEP RIGHT 33 9.38% 0 3 508 54.55% 15.394
SHORT LEFT 126 35.80% 2 7 885 73.02% 7.024
SHORT MIDDLE 51 14.49% 0 1 369 70.59% 7.235
SHORT RIGHT 95 26.99% 0 1 599 67.37% 6.305

Overall, Mayfield is content to keep his passes shorter, and it pays off. Nine of his 12 touchdown passes without Beckham have come on short passes, and his completion percentage is a robust 70.6 percent.

Even when Beckham is playing, other receivers have been able to make more dynamic plays when catching deep passes. Beckham averaged 10.4 yards per target on deep passes, while other receivers average 13.8 yards per target on deep balls. And when Beckham is not in the game at all, that average on deep balls goes up to 14.6 yards per target.

Here’s a look at Mayfield’s numbers passing when he targets other receivers.

Pass Type Pass Location TargetRate Interceptions Touchdowns Yards Completion Rate Yards Per Play
DEEP LEFT 56 5.63% 0 1 641 42.86% 11.446
DEEP MIDDLE 29 2.91% 6 2 550 75.86% 18.966
DEEP RIGHT 89 8.94% 2 6 1195 48.31% 13.427
SHORT LEFT 310 31.16% 5 15 2145 73.55% 6.919
SHORT MIDDLE 171 17.19% 6 8 1289 69.01% 7.538
SHORT RIGHT 307 30.85% 2 14 1756 64.50% 5.720

Overall, Mayfield attempts deep passes 18.1 percent of the time to non-Beckham receivers, but on those attempts, he has nine touchdowns to eight interceptions overall. 

This would certainly seem to indicate that when Mayfield is ready to heave it up, he’s being a bit more selective. Other receivers don’t quite carry the same type of play-making ability, so he’s likely only taking those chances downfield when he feels more confident in the chances of success.

Data from ProFootballFocus would also suggest that Mayfield is a better passer when Beckham is not out there. Based on their data, his big-time throw percent was a career-high in 2018, before Beckham arrived, at 7.7 percent. His second-best season was 2020, when Beckham was out for half the year with a torn ACL, as Mayfield had a 6.1 percent rate. His lowest came in Beckham’s only full year with the team, 2019, when he had a rate of 5 percent.

The turnover-worthy throws also go up when Beckham is on the field. Per ProFootballFocus’ data, Mayfield’s lowest turnover-worthy play rate has come this season at 2.8 percent, with his second-lowest being in 2020 at 3 percent. His rookie season had just a 3.1 percent rate. His worst came, again, in Beckham’s only full year with the team, when 3.7 percent of Mayfield’s plays were turnover worthy.

Should Browns fans be concerned?

The numbers aren’t exactly great. It is clear that Mayfield becomes a bit too much of a gunslinger when he has the sure hands of Beckham out on the field, and it tends to lead to more interceptions.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be concering to Browns’ fans. For starters, ProFootballFocus graded Beckham at 90.3 in pass plays in the team’s most recent game against the Cardinals, his highest since arriving in Cleveland. Mayfield declined compared to his season rate, but in part, his issues can be chalked up to a team decimated by injuries of late with both running back Nick Chubb and wide receiver Jarvis Landry out during that game.

Ultimately, what it might come down to for Mayfield is deciding how often to take the shot to Beckham. There is no doubt that Beckham can make the plays, but if he’s not the receiver he used to be, he’ll get beat. 

There are enough weapons in Cleveland that, when healthy, this is a dangerous offense. It’s just a question of how Mayfield chooses to utilize each of his options.




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