Odell Beckham Already Lifting Baker Mayfield, Browns—but Will It Be Enough?

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 17, 2019

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 16:  Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns scores a touchdown in the third quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Odell Beckham Jr. is a superstar wide receiver and an incomparable talent, but his inclusion in the Cleveland Browns offense isn't enough to make the team realize its outsize expectations this season. Only improved effort from the entire squad will push the longtime doormat into contender status.

Monday's performance during the Browns' 23-3 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium reminded everyone how special Beckham is. His return to the Big Apple after he was traded this offseason featured a pair of staggering highlight catches that showed why the Browns are significantly better with him in the lineup, though his presence alone won't be enough against the league's elite.

"Not losing sight of a win is a win..." quarterback Baker Mayfield told reporters, "we absolutely need to play better."

The Browns are still building an offense that features Beckham, Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, tight end David Njoku and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

The first step in doing so is devising a scheme to maximize the roster's star player, which Cleveland has done. The Browns targeted Beckham 21 times through their first two games, and he ranks fourth overall with 232 receiving yards.

Second, Beckham must build a rapport with Mayfield. This remains a work in progress, but Monday's effort showed the burgeoning symbiotic relationship necessary for them to become an elite tandem. These things take time, countless reps and experience together in game situations. Imagine how good Beckham and Mayfield will be.

"I think I'm in a better physical and mental space than I've ever been in my life," Beckham told reporters.

His speed and ridiculous catch radius make life easier for a gunslinger such as Mayfield. Pinpoint accuracy isn't always necessary when targeting Beckham. He makes the spectacular look routine, as he did with a one-handed, 33-yard sideline snag during the Browns' opening drive.

Beckham's unique style can be both a blessing and a curse. Later in the contest, Mayfield forced a pass into coverage, which resulted in his fourth interception this season.

Sometimes, a quarterback will attempt a pass because he trusts his receiver. Other times, the quarterback will check down and take an easy completion.

Mayfield found the easy throw on the biggest play of the contest.

He took a designed run and turned it into a run-pass option because the Jets had soft zone coverage, which Beckham easily split for an 89-yard touchdown.

"It was a called run, and then an adjustment by Baker and Odell," Kitchens told reporters.

The three-time Pro Bowler turned a simple check at the line of scrimmage into the longest road touchdown reception in the Browns' NFL history, per Sportsnet Stats. In doing so, Beckham also recorded the fastest speed on a touchdown this season at 21.7 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (via ESPN's Jake Trotter). Amazingly, he achieved these feats despite cramping throughout the contest.

"That's why you give him the ball," Mayfield told reporters.

The allure of the big play can be tempting, and Mayfield continues to work toward finding that balance because he clearly wants to push the ball downfield as much as possible. Little plays can turn into something special, as Beckham showed.

Problems can appear at this juncture because the rest of the offense is stuck in neutral.

During Week 1, protection issues came to the forefront when the Tennessee Titans sacked Mayfield five times and hit him on seven occasions. The Browns employed 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) on 92 percent of their snaps, according to Sharp Football's Warren Sharp. The grouping allows a team to keep its playmakers on the field yet minimizes opportunities for max protection, thus leaving the offensive tackles on islands.

The Titans exposed the Browns' biggest deficiency: their tackles.

Adjustments came a week later with far more 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers), slide protection to help right tackle Chris Hubbard and different protection schemes with the running backs.

The final step—one the Browns have yet to figure out—is where everyone else fits into the puzzle. Clearly, the coaching staff started the process against the Jets and built a better game plan.

But Landry has yet to be a significant contributor with seven catches for 99 yards through two games. An emphasis on Chubb faded in the first contest. He became a focal point in Week 2 with a couple of significant carries, including a 19-yard touchdown run, but he averaged only 3.4 yards per tote. Njoku and the team's third receiver, Rashard Higgins, haven't really figured into the equation as they deal with injuries.

Running back Kareem Hunt, who led the league with 1,327 rushing yards as a rookie in 2017, will eventually return from his eight-game suspension, too.

All these weapons can be a good problem if everyone figures out how to play together.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 16: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns drops back to pass during their game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Imag
Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

But the Browns haven't, the offense bogs down for stretches, and Mayfield doesn't look consistently comfortable. He's fallen off some throws and bailed from the pocket. The usually accurate passer missed some open opportunities and threw a few uncharacteristically bad balls.

The lack of rhythm found within this group should be alarming considering the Browns' upcoming slate. Cleveland faces a brutal five-game stretch against the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. Those squads own a combined 10-0 record.

Beckham can be great and everything the Browns wanted when the organization dealt for the elite playmaker but still not be enough to propel the franchise toward its ultimate goals: making the playoffs, winning the AFC North and entering the Super Bowl hunt.

Opponents can handle the wide receiver with the old Michael Jordan rule: Let Beckham have his, but don't let others beat you, and odds shift into the challenger's favor. 

    

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.

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