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How Baker Mayfield became one of the NFL’s best passers under pressure

The Bucs quarterback is among the league’s highest-rated when defenders are in his face.
 
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to pass during Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks to pass during Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 17

TAMPA — The biggest play in the Bucs’ win over the Titans last Sunday was a simple screen pass to running back Rachaad White that became a 43-yard touchdown.

It was the perfect call against the blitz. Mayfield had to sell the play-action run fake to White and kept retreating to give him time to sneak out into the left flat.

The trap had been sprung. But Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons beat tackle Luke Goedeke off the snap and Mayfield held the ball until the last second, taking a big hit in the process.

Some quarterbacks thrive under pressure, even if it means crawling back to the huddle until the pain after the long gain subsides.

“It’s just the nature of the game,” Mayfield said. “You know (with) some of those screen passes, you’re going to be looking down the barrel. You want to invite them in as close as possible to where they can’t retrace and chase the back from behind.

“When it comes to screens, you’ve got to live with it. When it comes to other pressures, it’s just knowing what your answers are, knowing where the voids of defense are when they do bring a certain guy and how you want to attack it.”

Of all the things Mayfield has done well so far, delivering the football under a heavy pass rush has been near the top of the list.

Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes under pressure from Buffalo Bills linebacker Terrel Bernard, left, during a game last month in Orchard Park, New York.
Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes under pressure from Buffalo Bills linebacker Terrel Bernard, left, during a game last month in Orchard Park, New York. [ JEFFREY T. BARNES | AP ]

Two weeks ago against the Texans, Mayfield faced pressure on 15 of his 34 dropbacks. He finished with 30 pass attempts, was sacked twice and scrambled twice. According to Next Gen Stats, Mayfield under pressure was 7-for-11 for 85 yards and a touchdown for a 117.6 rating. His overall passer rating for the game was only a few points higher at 119.4.

Mayfield can expect plenty of pressure Sunday against the 49ers.

San Francisco has first-round picks all across their defensive front, starting with Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and newly acquired Chase Young, who was acquired from the Washington Commanders at the trade deadline. Bosa and Javon Hargrave, a third-round pick, lead the Niners with 4½ sacks each.

“Their defense as a whole has studs all around, so you’ve got to be clued into their blitz packages and obviously just have to handle the front in general,” Mayfield said. “That’s their starting point, and it allows for those linebackers that are both studs to play pretty free.

“... They’re really good, so we have to expect that they’re going to give us some fits and some challenges on different things and so we’ve just got to game plan and find out ways to stay ahead of the chains.”

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Bosa and Mayfield have some history. The former Ohio State star never forgot or forgave Mayfield for planting the Oklahoma flag in the middle of The Horseshoe following the Sooners’ 31-16 win over the Buckeyes in 2017. When the 49ers and Browns met in 2019, Bosa planted an imaginary flag during San Francisco’s rout of Cleveland.

“It was fun,” Bosa told reporters Wednesday. “My celebrations as a rookie were pretty good.”

Mayfield laughed when asked about his run-ins with Bosa. “I’ve only played him a couple times,” he said. “ ... It’s fun. He’s a good guy, obviously a good competitor and a stud. It’s one of those challenges you look forward to, going up against him and competing.”

Then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes as San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa applies pressure during a 2019 game in Santa Clara, California.
Then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes as San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa applies pressure during a 2019 game in Santa Clara, California. [ BEN MARGOT | AP ]

Another example of Mayfield’s calm amid chaos also came against the Texans when he connected with tight end Cade Otton for a 24-yard pass on the Bucs’ first play from scrimmage. Houston defensive tackle Jonathan Greenard was offside on the play but pressured Mayfield and was only 0.3 yards away when he released the football. Next Gen Stats gave the pass a completion probability of 37.9%.

That’s why Bucs offensive coordinator Dave Canales wasn’t surprised by Mayfield’s willingness to take a hit and deliver a perfect pass in time to White for the touchdown against the Titans.

“When things are chaotic, it calms him,” Canales said. “He likes that fight. It’s the calculated boxing match where they’re measuring people and then it turns into a fist fight and there’s guys that thrive. He really thrives on third down with the chaotic stunts and rush and blitzes. He elevates. End-of-game scenarios.

“Then on the flip side of it for me, just being around some good quarterbacks, just one of the better quarterback performances I’ve seen. Just in terms of him progressing and getting back to reads rhythmically, really smooth with his eyes. He’s still getting better.”

Bucs receiver Chris Godwin says it’s Mayfield’s mentality and mobility that allows him to deliver under pressure.

“He has a calm demeanor back there,” Godwin said. “He’s not really, like, ever panicked. He’s played so much football, he’s pretty comfortable and he trusts the guys. And his ability to escape the pocket and extend plays really helps as well. So I think his composure back there is probably the big thing.”

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