The Odell Beckham experiment in Cleveland hasn’t gone as well as expected. And he’s getting frustrated.
That characterization didn’t come from Beckham on Wednesday but from quarterback Baker Mayfield, who addressed Beckham’s lack of offensive production with reporters on Wednesday.
“He is frustrated when he is not getting the ball and we are losing,” Mayfield said. “Why not be? He feels like he could help us win if we get the ball in his hands. When we are winning, that is the thing about it is he is a team guy. He is helping us win in any way he can, and he understands how teams are going to play him. It is frustrating when he is not getting the ball and we are losing. You can’t blame him. He is one of the best receivers in the league, and when he is not getting the ball, he always has it in the back of his mind of, ‘What if I did get the ball and changed this game?'”
The football-watching world got a glimpse of that mindset on Monday, with a Benny Hill-style punt return from Beckham, who was trying to singlehandedly turn the game around at a time when the cause was lost. He backtracked and eventually fumbled.
Beckham had only two catches against the Ravens in Week Four, which created no problems because Cleveland emerged with the victory. On Monday night, two receptions coupled with a loss has made Beckham’s lack of involvement an issue.
Beckham isn’t the only one frustrated by his lack of involvement. Mayfield is frustrated by the extent to which opposing defenses are taking him out of games.
“It is frustrating when teams take him out of the game,” Mayfield said, “but it is also an opportunity for other guys to make plays. We have to do our job of getting him the ball as many times as we can. He is a game changer. That is why he is here. He is one of the best in the league. We will do our part, and we expect him to do his as well.”
That’s fine, but it’s still not working. Although the Browns are drawing up plays aimed at getting Beckham involved, it feels too forced and contrived, not part of the natural flow of the game. And as defenses focus on taking him away, the Browns are getting even more frustrated.
“I think it is about seeing how teams are going to play, and if there are one on ones, we have to be able to take advantage of it,” Mayfield said. “If not, he has to be patient and we do too of not forcing the ball to him and taking advantage of defenses and making them adapt before we can get the ball to him.”
A passing game works best when the quarterback focuses only on throwing the ball to the open man. And if a defense insists on taking one specific player away, the offense needs to pivot to others who will enjoy mismatches. But Beckham still wants the ball, and his desire to get the ball creates stress and pressure for the coaches and for Mayfield, potentially forcing him to spend too much time hoping Beckham springs open before moving on to the next man in the progression, because Mayfield knows that, if Beckham doesn’t get the ball, he’ll become frustrated.
That’s the price of having a great receiver. He knows he’s a great receiver, and he wants to continuously prove his greatness. He won’t concede that maybe he’s not so great that he can beat double teams, that he’s not open when he thinks he is, that pursuing victory isn’t about how many passes he catches.
So while it sounded great back in March to add Beckham to the Browns roster, the Browns are now working through the challenge that comes from having Beckham on the Browns roster — and his frustration will serve only as an invitation for teams to continue to do whatever they have to do to shut him down, since they know that his frustration and the efforts to alleviate it will make it easier to shut the entire offense down, too.