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The format for sports talk shows on television is simple: Put two people in a studio, pick a topic, and let them spout completely opposite opinions even if one of the talking heads scarcely believes his own words. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN is so good that he doesn’t even need a partner. Smith grudgingly offered a fresh take on Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield 48 hours after throwing him under the bus.

Baker Mayfield is enigmatic and polarizing

Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s third season with the Cleveland Browns clearly has been his best work since joining the NFL as the No. 1 overall draft selection in 2018 out of Oklahoma. To some extent, saying that constitutes damnation with faint praise.

Mayfield’s first two years as a pro were marked by inconsistent work on the field. He was just as likely to run his way into a sack as he was to extend a play by scrambling, and the accuracy of his throws changed from series to series.

The mitigating factors, other than the self-inflicted woes, contributing to his problems included coaching and the Browns’ talent deficit. That has changed under head coach Kevin Stefanski, who has committed to the run game featuring Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Consequently, Mayfield is not trying to do everything.

Mayfield isn’t on pace to throw for much more than 3,000 yards this season, but he finally is posting the right ratio of touchdowns (21) to interceptions (7) and has taken just 17 sacks during Cleveland’s 9-3 start.

Still, observers like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith are at least as likely to point to the coaching and the running game as hiding Mayfield’s deficiencies as an NFL quarterback – and throw in a gratuitous knock about his character – as they are to give him props for the Browns’ resurgence.

Stephen A. Smith tore into Baker Mayfield before NFL Week 13

Appearing on ESPN on Dec. 4, commentator Stephen A. Smith said he concurred with retired linebacker Bart Scott’s earlier comment that “there’s no quarterback who’s done less with more than Baker Mayfield.” Smith then attempted to pile on, in the process using some questionable logic.

Smith was critical of Mayfield for going into NFL Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans with just passing 2,108 yards and 17 touchdowns. He mentioned running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in a way suggesting that their presence should be opening doors to greater passing numbers. Of course, that is backward thinking; their effectiveness is the very reason Mayfield needs to throw less, particularly with Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season.

The Browns rushed for a total of 1,901 yards and 15 touchdowns in all of 2019, with Chubb carrying almost the entire load. Chubb (799 yards, 7 TDs) and Hunt (739 yards, 4 TDs) have already helped the 2020 Browns to 1,893 yards.

In wrapping up his thought, Smith seemingly realized the changed emphasis of the Cleveland offense and acknowledged that coach Kevin Stefanski “asked Baker Mayfield not to lose the damn game, and to his credit he hasn’t.” That, in itself, might be enough to pop the “done less with more” balloon.

That Stephen A. Smith take didn’t age well

The Cleveland Browns opened some eyes on Dec. 6 by rolling to a 38-7 halftime lead and beating the Tennessee Titans, 41-35. Rather than rely heavily on the ground game that has served them well this season, the Browns turned Baker Mayfield loose. The third-year quarterback threw touchdowns to four receivers, including a 75-yard catch-and-run by Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Mayfield finished 25 of 33 for 334 yards and no interceptions. It was only the fifth 300-yard day of his career and third four-TD day. Even the critics who derisively dismissed his five touchdowns on Oct. 25 because they came against the Cincinnati Bengals had to be impressed.

Grudgingly, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith tweeted that during the game that Mayfield was “doing it right now. Gotta give credit where it’s due.”

Granted, it was a single game in a 42-game NFL career. But it just helped to expose the comment about no quarterback having done less with more look for the much-shared TV soundbite that it was intended to be.

As the video above shows, Stephen A. is back to being Stephen A. a day later.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference