Despite it being this early in the season, the battle between two of the NFL's best teams will have major implications on the AFC playoff picture.
While Cleveland's defense has put up some historic performances so far this year, the Browns will still need to outduel Justin Herbert, who has emerged as a top-five quarterback in his sophomore season. And the only way the Browns will be able to outduel the Bolts is if Baker Mayfield is completely healthy.
Unfortunately, he is not, and the past two games have shown that. If Mayfield is doing more harm than good during games, the Browns would be wise to sit him for at least this week.
In the Browns' Week 2 win over the Texans, Mayfield threw an interception and then channeled his inner Ronnie Lott in order to make the tackle. In the process, he appeared to hurt his left shoulder. He stayed in the game but it was clear something was bothering him.
In Cleveland's loss last week to the Vikings, it was even more obvious that the former No. 1 pick wasn't quite right.
#Browns QB Baker Mayfield, who has been wearing a shoulder harness to play, suffered a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder on Sept 19 vs the #Texans, sources say. No surgery needed as of now. He was listed on the report after the injury and hasn’t missed a practice snap.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 7, 2021
Mayfield played his first game with the injury against the Bears in Week 3.
The Browns got lucky that they were playing Justin Fields in his first career start which overshadowed Mayfield's shoddy play.
Before the injury, Mayfield completed 81% of his passes with a 101.9 QBR In the two starts after the injury, Mayfield's completion percentage dropped down to 53% and his QBR has tumbled to 77.7. In other words, this injury is more severe than the team is saying it is.
It was never more apparent that Mayfield's shoulder was hampering him than him missing what would've been a walk-in touchdown to a wide-open Odell Beckham last week.
There are plenty of examples of throws just not looking good from Mayfield lately. This is not necessarily his fault, a partially torn labrum will affect your accuracy, however, him continuing to play is only hurting himself (literally) and the Browns.
The good news for Cleveland is that they are 2-0 in those two games. The bad news is the Chargers aren't the Bears or Vikings. They are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
For the benefit of the team, and for his health later on this season, Mayfield must sit and recover against the Bolts.
Case Keenum Time?
Luckily for the Browns, they have one of the best backup quarterback situations in the NFL. Case Keenum has his fair share of games and even led the Vikings to the NFC Championship in 2017.
Keenum signed with the Browns last season, which was the first season that his former offensive coordinator in Minnesota, Kevin Stefanski was the new head coach in Cleveland. Obviously, Keenum knows this offense, he has built chemistry as a veteran leader, and he has won in this offense.
Keenum probably cannot lead a team to the playoffs anymore, but on any given Sunday, with his experience, the Browns have a shot with him taking the snaps, especially with how talented the roster is around him.
Mayfield needs to be held out for a week. While there's no guarantee that sitting him for a week will help his overall recovery as this could be a long-term issue, he's doing more harm than good on a potentially elite offense.
Mayfield risks hurting his team and potentially suffering a more severe injury.
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