Perhaps Browns fans would caution against getting too excited too early about a young quarterback. Given their history with, well, every quarterback who has played for the Browns this millennium. But you can still count me as a card-carrying member of the Baker Mayfield fan club. I mean, a lot of quarterbacks would have looked at the disaster of 2019 and thought to themselves, I probably shouldn’t do as many advertisements. Baker went the other way and doubled down. He gets me. And can I get a moment to point out that Mayfield’s play on the field is like a damn Greek tragedy? Baker was amazing in Year 1, setting a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. Then Cleveland brought in all-world receiver Odell Beckham, and Mayfield’s completion percentage dropped below 60 while his pick total jumped above 20. This past offseason, the Browns hired Kevin Stefanski and significantly beefed up the offensive line, yet we still get figures like this, courtesy of Next Gen Stats: Mayfield has a passer rating of 120.4 when he’s blitzed, but 40.8 when facing four or fewer pass rushers. I don’t even know what to do with this kind of information.
But if Baker and OBJ can build off a promising Week 2 showing? I mean, Cleveland already has its modern-day backfield equivalent of Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack (ask your parents) in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Dare I say the Browns’ offense could be exciting? And speaking of offense …
With Ben Roethlisberger under center again, the Steelers’ attack is back. I know that Big Ben’s a polarizing player. He’s not really my cup of tea. But if the alternative is watching Mason Rudolph, I’ll go purchase a Miami of Ohio throwback right now. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s undoubtedly thrilled to have his QB1 again. Which leads into my next point: How is it that the Steelers always manage to find good receivers? ALWAYS. Over the last couple of decades, the Steelers have lost Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Brown, et al., and yet still annually manage to have one of the best receiving corps in the game. Just look at the current group. Beyond the resurgent JuJu, Diontae Johnson is picking up right where he left off in his fine rookie season. And now Chase Claypool — the latest Steelers steal in the draft — is scoring 84-yard touchdowns. The only Pittsburgh product better than Steelers wide receivers? Primanti Brothers sandwiches — and really, those can only be truly enjoyed right by the Three Rivers.
Here’s the real bad news for the rest of the AFC: While the Steelers’ offense looks potent again, their defense is even better. The unit has given up four touchdowns this season — only the Ravens (two), Bears (three) and Chargers (three) have allowed fewer. Pittsburgh also leads the NFL in sacks and takeaways. Do the Steelers have the best defense in the NFL right now? Maybe, maybe not. Do they have the best Watt brother right now? They certainly do. No disrespect to J.J. Watt, but T.J. Watt should have been Defensive Player of the Year last season, and he’s making another push for the hardware in 2020, with 2.5 sacks and a pick in his first two games.
So, here we are, 1,100 words into this column explaining why the AFC North is the most entertaining division in football, and we haven’t even gotten to the Baltimore Ravens. You know, the team that finished an NFL-best 14-2 last season? The team quarterbacked by the reigning MVP? Ring a bell?
Lamar Jackson, of course, put all the lazy narratives about his perceived limitations to rest in 2019, authoring one of the most dominant regular seasons in memory. Not only did he shatter Michael Vick’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206, but he also, um, led the league in touchdown passes with 36. And now, through the first two weeks of this season, Jackson has completed 77.6 percent of his passes, with four TDs and zero INTs. For the record, he’s airing it out, too, currently boasting a yards-per-attempt average of 9.8 — the highest number in the league. The guy continues to become more of a downfield assassin. Just check out the progression in this key area over his brief NFL career:
Lamar Jackson on passes of 10-plus air yards: