Keeping Baker Mayfield In The Pocket Key To Defensive Turnaround

Baker Mayfield started the game hot. Red hot. And it felt like it was going to be another case of a mobile, strong-armed quarterback having his way with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense like Patrick Mahomes this year or Carson Wentz his rookie season. On his first three drives Sunday afternoon, Mayfield completed 8 of 11 passes and led two scoring drives. They bitterly ended in field goals but points are points for an offense struggling to look cohesive over the last month.

Then everything changed. Eliminate the garbage time touchdown drive that padded his numbers, he went 7 for 18 the rest of the day, averaged five yards per completion, and had a lowly 23.5 QBR for the entire game.

So what happened? Multiple reasons, there always are, but the Steelers did a much better job of containing him within the pocket. Several players cited that post-game.

“I thought the QB escapes, we were able to shut those down in the second half,” Cam Heyward told reporters in the locker room. “It was a team effort.”

Mike Hilton said similar.

“We saw on the film, got an idea of how he liked to run the offense. He’s a guy who likes to get outside the pocket, use his legs, and throw on the run. We tried to contain him, we did that well. We missed out on a couple sacks but overall, we got a lot of pressure on him.”

Those missed sacks came early. Pressure that got home but because of poor containment let Mayfield leave the pocket and extend the play. He’s not someone who looks to immediately take off, he finished the day with just one rush, but his mobility lets him extend the play and force secondaries to coverage for an unimaginable amount of time.

Like here, one of several plays you could choose from, an early third down conversion by the Browns. Bud Dupree flies in through the B gap and gets pressure, flushing Mayfield out of the pocket. But Heyward isn’t able to work over the top on his stunt, letting him escape, keep the play alive, and complete the pass for a gain of 21.

That changed in the second quarter. And the Browns’ offense went in the tank while the Steelers built up a big lead, the special teams error aside.

Mike Tomlin agreed that keeping Mayfield from running around played a big key in the defense getting back on track.

“I thought we could have done a better job of keeping him within the pocket. It seems like that was creating plays for him. When he was escaping the rush and extending the play. I thought once we got that under control, I felt comfortable where we were.”

The Steelers’ defense have allowed just 18.7 points over their last three games, taming effective offenses like the Falcons and Bengals and yesterday, continuing the Browns’ woes. Based on his output, I assume Keith Butler rolled all his coverages to Jarvis Landry, quiet the entire game, which is another positive trend for this unit.

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