Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is entering Sunday’s game known to be somewhat banged up, suffering a rib injury in the team’s last game on Sunday, a fourth consecutive victory, against the Indianapolis Colts. Last week, when talking about playing against an offensive line with injuries, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said it is like there is blood in the water.
I wonder what it’s like when not just the quarterback’s protection but the quarterback himself is ailing? While Mayfield insists that he will be fine, his injury was significant enough at least that he was held out of today’s practice, not exactly standard procedure for a third-year quarterback.
“I’m not a doctor. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you I know how bruised up he is”, Heyward told reporters earlier today, via Teresa Varley. “At the end of the day I’m just trying to inflict good punishment. As a D-line and as a defense you want to make sure he’s thinking about the rush”.
What a phrase that is—a Tomlinism if I ever heard one. The Steelers are looking to inflict good punishment on Mayfield this Sunday knowing that he is coming into the game ailing. Not that any other defensive lineman on any other team wouldn’t be thinking the same thing about any other ailing opposing quarterback.
It’s the nature of the game. It’s what everyone on the field signed up for and understands. “We play a physical game”, Heyward reminded. “He’s gonna come out there and try to be a warrior for his team but it’s up to us to make him think about that injury during the game”.
That is the key to playing physical defense. And it’s not about ‘injury’, per se. It’s about soreness, bruising. It’s about making your opponent conscious of the beating that he has taken and the beating that is to come and making him alter what he might otherwise do in the hopes of avoiding greater punishment. When it comes to quarterbacks, that means getting the ball out quicker, off-schedule, off-balance, refusing to hang in the pocket to deliver a big throw knowing the hit is coming.
And nobody has been putting hits on the quarterback like the Steelers have this year. They are absolutely pummeling quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus has them at 29 hits on the quarterback so far this year in just four games, in addition to their 20 sacks. That’s over 12 hits per game. That works out to about three hits per quarter, or about a hit per drive.
It doesn’t feel good. And Mayfield won’t feel that good entering Sunday’s game. He sure won’t feel good coming out of it, at least not physically. Mayfield has taken 14 sacks and hits so far this year via allowed pressure. Expect that number to jump up facing the most relentless pass rush in the NFL.