Baker Mayfield in for a Terrible Awakening
- Big Question: Can the Steelers #1 rated rushing defense stop the Browns #1 rushing attack?
My honest answer is "I don't know."
Steelers DC Keith Butller, Browns HC Kevin Stefanski and I were up much of last night trying to figure this exact calculus out - working separately, of course - and if God came down and told me the answer, then you can trust that I'd be making a 45-minute visit today to my local Savings and Loans for a thorough accounting of my finances, a major withdrawal, and maybe even a loan application for that matter.
My gut instinct, along with some numbers, says that the Steelers' #1 rated rushing defense (64 yards allowed per game) will stifle the Cleveland Browns' #1 rated rushing attack (188 yards per game).
Now there are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, the Browns have put up gaudy numbers against bad rush defenses like the Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys. They have not been able to do the same against good rush defenses like the Colts and the Ravens, however.
Against the Ravens, in Week 1, the game was over after the first quarter. Against the Colts, the Browns were able to navigate their way through decently without a major ground game - but that was against a defense that is far more forgiving than these Steelers, especially to a quarterback who simply hates pressure.
It's not that Mayfield has been so bad under pressure, either - he actually ranked #16 by DVOA under pressure in 2019.
Rather, my point here is that this season, in 2020, Baker's improved stats have had everything to do with the lack of pressure he has faced, through five games so far.
Playing off Kevin Stefanski's dynamic rushing attack, Mayfield has had as much time as any QB in the NFL to make his decisions. Speed the clock up, however, and I think he turns back into a pumpkin.
Mayfield specifically has had the most time in the pocket on average of any quarterback in the NFL, currently sitting at 2.7 seconds to throw per drop back (league average is 2.4). Only Russell Wilson has had that much time or more, and that also includes the seconds he buys in the pocket due to his elusiveness.
Another number for you: Mayfield has only faced pressure on 16% of his dropbacks.
That's top six in the league.
But the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't having that in Week 6. Pittsburgh is tops in the league in attacking opponent QB's with a pressure rate above 40%. For comparison, the league average is close to just half of that (22%), and only the New England Patriots are the only ones above even 30%.
Pittsburgh does this through a variety of blitz packages, and they and the Ravens, in fact, are the only teams in the NFL that blitz nearly half the time, a style that I believe will work extremely well if the Steelers can make the Browns one-dimensional in this divisional rivalry.
Again, I don't know if they can or cannot - but there is asymmetric risk in my opinion based on this key factor. The Eagles put up decent rushing numbers last week against the Steelers, but the majority of it was on one ("lucky") 3rd-and-9 draw play from Miles Sanders that was more of a freak occurrence than a consistent Steeler vulnerability on the defensive end.
After four consecutive relatively easy games, Mayfield now has to go back into the House of Horrors at Heinz Field.
Making matters worse for Mayfield is that he's going to have to face the Steelers without his starting right guard, Wyatt Teller. With Teller out, the Browns will be rolling with someone named Chris Hubbard, who has yet to make a start at the guard position in his NFL career.
There is a fair chance that these are even teams, sure, and there is no match up advantage other than in my imagination. That said, however, consider how lopsided this game may become if the Browns' offense needs Mayfield to be the focus.
I like the value laying 3.5 on the home team here. Give me Pittsburgh ATS.
- Bonus Fact: The Cleveland Browns have never beaten Mike Tomlin's Steelers in Pittsburgh (0-13)
- Bonus Bonus Fact: The Pittsburgh Steelers at home and off a win are 58% ATS since 1989 and 59% ATS under Mike Tomlin (since 2007)
- Best Bet: Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5 hosting the Cleveland Browns