NFL Insider Notes Baker Mayfields Woes and What the Panthers

NFL Insider Notes: Baker Mayfield’s Woes and What the Panthers Will Do, Ravens’ Fake Call and More from Week 4

In the first quarter of the season, Baker Mayfield didn’t experience the career renaissance he had hoped for. He is 1-3 as a starting quarterback with career lows in completion percentage (54.7), touchdown rate (3.4), and yards per attempt (6.4). His 10 passes so far this season — including five in Sunday’s loss to Arizona — are the most in the NFL, according to the PFF.

But I expect Mayfield to be the starting quarterback when the Panthers take the field against the 49ers next Sunday. In short, the Panthers have no choice.

Carolina head coach Matt Rhule said after Sunday’s 16:26 loss that he “didn’t think it was right to talk about a possible quarterback change.” Although Sam Darnold is eligible to return from injured reserve, I don’t get the impression he’s healthy enough to start now and he also lost the match at training camp to Mayfield.

The Panthers believe they have a top 10 defense that needs some help from their offense. The offensive line played well enough. The team has put together enough skill position weapons with Christian McCaffrey, Robbie Anderson, DJ Moore and Laviska Shenault. The quarterback game was well below par.

Carolina sources have repeatedly said in the past month that the dressing room is healthy and they have credited the embattled Rhule for developing since his first two years at the helm. Still, the Panthers are 1-26 in Rhule’s tenure if they concede at least 17 points.

Over the next three weeks, the Panthers face the three newest NFC champions: the 49ers, Rams and Buccaneers.

Harbaugh made the wrong decision, even if analysis backs it up

I slept on it and a morning later I still don’t like John Harbaugh’s decision to go fourth and score from the 2 on the touchdown. They weren’t next to me on Sunday afternoon as offense stayed on the field, but I challenged the Ravens to take the almost-guaranteed three points.

With 4:15 in a 20-all tie ball game, Harbaugh kept the ball in Lamar Jackson’s hands and attempted to score. The pass – a prayer at the time of release – was intercepted. The Bills, armed with their prolific offense on all three of their timeouts, matriculated the ball down the field to kick the game-winning 21-yarder after time ran out.

“Well I felt like it gave us the best chance of winning the game because seven [points], the worst that can happen is if they get on the field and score – and I think we’re going to stop them – but if they get on the field and score a touchdown, the worst that can happen is you going into overtime,” Harbaugh said after the game. “But if you kick a field goal there, it’s not a three-down game anymore, it’s a four-down game. You put them out there, you put your defense at a disadvantage because they convert four downs to the end of the field and have a chance to score seven again, and then you lose the game on a touchdown.

“The other thing you think you get the ball at the 2 yard line, so I’m very confident the defense can stop them down there with the ball at the 2 yard line, so have we secured them if we didn’t get it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and we lost the game. So in hindsight you could take the points, but if you look at it analytically you can understand why we did it.”

The analyzes support Harbaugh. According to Next Gen Stats, the decision was a “go”. The probability of winning would have been 84.3% for a touchdown and 64.3% for a field goal. (It’s important to note that Next Gen also had the actual meters to walk three, not two.)

But while the touchdown would undoubtedly have given the Ravens the best chance of winning the game, a turnover on downs also gave them the best chance of losing the game. Buffalo’s winning probability before the fourth down game was 33%. After Jackson’s interception in the end zone, it shot up to 58% despite being backed up with their own 2. [Full disclosure here: I’ve noted recently my side eye at win probability in today’s NFL.]

The Bills burn the most time per drive, the most yards per time, and have the second most plays per drive in the league. They have the best third-down offense in the league (55.8 percent conversion rate) and are 5 of 7 in fourth.

Harbaugh relied on his defense just as much as he relied on his offense, which was a little better than a coin toss. But it was the same defense that saw a 21-point lead vanish against the Dolphins on the same field two weeks earlier. And on Sunday a 17-point lead was gone.

Not only that, four minutes and three timeouts with an MVP candidate as the opposing quarterback is an eternity.

Regardless of whether the Ravens kicked the field goal or made the touchdown, the defense still should have prevented a Buffalo touchdown. There’s also nothing to suggest the Bills didn’t try to end the game with a 2-point conversion down the road in poor conditions against a defense that would have just burned out. If the Bills had crossed the Baltimore 35 by three points, the game very likely would have reverted to a three-point game. The Ravens also had two timeouts of their own early in the Bills drive to save time in the event of a faster field goal to tie the game.

Trying to go for the touchdown increased the Ravens’ chance of winning the game, and that’s the point of this great experiment we call competitive sports. Failure in that one game also increased their chances of losing. The 2-2 Ravens would like to be 3-1 today, but they wouldn’t mind 2-1-1 either.

No controversy over Cowboys QB despite Rush’s success

I can’t believe I have to say this, but there’s no quarterback controversy in Dallas. The Cowboys will start Dak Prescott if he’s healthy, and that could very well be this week against the Rams.

Rush has exceeded expectations in his interim role, becoming the first Dallas quarterback to start his career 4-0 as a starter. He has a pass rate of over 100 this season and hasn’t turned football over as the Cowboys are undefeated under his supervision.

His pristine record is a testament to the Cowboys’ belief in Rush, but it doesn’t signal any kind of quarterback controversy. When a plan is executing the way you hoped it would, it’s not time to change the plan.

Jerry Jones raised some eyebrows last month when he said he would welcome a quarterback contest in Dallas. That’s because it would make his team interesting, and when his team is interesting, he makes more money. The Cowboys are the highest rated team in the NFL, in part because of things Jerry Jones says.

Benching an undefeated starter is one of those good problems that people like Jones are lucky enough to have to deal with.

More Insider Notes on Week 4

  • I would expect the Patriots to sign at least one quarterback for the practice team by Tuesday afternoon. While it’s a good sign they haven’t put Mac Jones (ankle) on IR with a determination to return, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Lions this week. Brian Hoyer is on concussion protocol and might not train until the end of the week if he’s even free. Bailey Zappe is the only healthy option at QB, and whether he starts against the Lions or (at the possible chance) supports Jones, New England still needs someone to lead the scout team this week. No team is scoring more points or gaining more yards than Detroit, so New England’s defense needs to put on a decent showing this week of practice.
  • Emotions are running high and the Ravens know exactly what kind of personality Marcus Peters is. I expect no internal repercussions from his side reaction on Sunday.