It has been a good week for Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield: Just after officially being named the starting quarterback for the opening game of the regular season, he turned in a quality performance during the preseason as the Panthers cruised to an easy shutout victory. In total, he completed nine of 15 passes (with a number of the six incompletions being the results drops) for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns, coming away with a passer rating of 116.4.
Most notably, Mayfield had an impressive connection with Shi Smith (Fun fact: Smith was born exactly five years after the founding of the Panthers!), with the pair combining three times for 32 yards and a touchdown after Mayfield had praised Smith’s efforts throughout the offseason and preseason.
With Mayfield’s season-opening revenge game against the Browns now just a few days away, we’ve taken a deeper look at Mayfield’s most extended, and most encouraging, playing time in a Panthers’ uniform thus far.
Despite what the scoring would indicate, the Panthers’ offensive line (with players resting) did allow pressure in the early going, but the passing game was up to the task. Off the play fake, Mayfield is met with interior pressure from the A-gap (No. 93), which is then combined with C-gap pressure on his blindside (No. 90).
In spite of this, Mayfield looks off the middle of the field, giving tight end Stephen Sullivan a bit of breathing room on the corner route. With the MIKE linebacker (No. 43) frozen for a brief moment, the quarterback is able to lead Sullivan with a soft lob past the strongside linebacker (No. 53), landing perfectly in the tight end’s hands.
A play like this is right in Mayfield’s wheelhouse. He thrived in quick, play action heavy offenses in Cleveland, and the hope is Ben McAdoo builds the offense around his quarterback’s strengths in that regard.
Soon after, Mayfield had his best throw of the night and of the preseason. Chuba Hubbard has been a target for many in the fanbase, and this play didn’t help quell the criticism.
Mayfield continues to look off the middle of the field, stalling No. 53 enough to allow Hubbard a little gap for his route. It is here that he tries to fit this in between two defenders, and while it looks dangerous on the broadcast, Hubbard almost comes down with a terrific catch.
On the replay angle, we can see the ball is just barely touched by No. 4 of the Bills, which may have had an effect on Hubbard’s ability to handle the grab. But on Mayfield’s part, the ball does arrive with enough rip to make its way through the Buffalo gap, so it’s a great throw even if it isn’t caught.
Eventually, the Panthers were able to hit pay dirt on the same drive on this fourth-and-goal. The jet sweep fake helps, but the offense appears to catch the defense napping, as D’onta Foreman was easily able to get beyond the line of scrimmage without a dangerous enough threat. No matter, since the apparent lack of communication ends up in Carolina’s favor.
If there’s any criticism to get from this otherwise successful completion, this play will need to be more in front in the regular season: Foreman is able to make a great adjustment on the behind placement, making it look effortless as he walks in for six. Mayfield will need to be careful in the future, as the time granted for an adjustment on a pass this close is obviously shorter than it would be on a deep shot.
Mayfield isn’t exactly known for his creativity as a mobile quarterback, but his scrambling ability outside the pocket has managed to go beyond the garden variety amble to the first down marker. In Cleveland, he’d often favor scrambling outside, which was seen numerous times against the Bills.
Here, it works out well, with Mayfield reacting to the edge defender in time. The “pressure” is intentional, as the offensive line lets No. 56 free to help draw the Bills defensive front away thanks to the zone blocking scheme. But Buffalo is able to contain the Panthers’ receivers, forcing Mayfield to attempt to make something happen on the ground.
He can only come up just short of the first down marker, but wisely protects himself by lifting up his ball carrying shoulder at the last second, allowing him to absorb the blow and land rookie corner Kaiir Elam off his feet.
Finally, we end this film review on a high note with Mayfield’s second touchdown of the evening. Lined up in the shotgun, he looks off the running back in the flat and then the slant from Tommy Tremble (No. 82), which draws the attention of Buffalo’s back five defenders.
With this attention, Shi Smith is able to break free in the open, and Mayfield zings the ball into Smith’s mitts for a terrific touchdown.
Though Mayfield isn’t among the NFL’s best arms, his top velocity has also been highly regarded. The emphasis on velocity means this pass is able to make its way between/over five Bills defenders, and just like that the quarterback’s night can conclude peacefully.
Much like his performance against the Commanders, Mayfield was making smart decisions, adding in a more advanced level of vision for this game. Outside of a touchdown pass that was slightly behind Dont’a Foreman, there’s not much to complain about.
As the days left until the Panthers’ season opener come close to single digits, so too does Baker Mayfield’s quest to revive his playing career. It can’t be said that this will silence the critics, and with superior talent (re: starters actually playing) approaching, he’ll need to prove he can be more consistent than what his 2019 and 2021 seasons showed.
Right now, however, so far so good in Charlotte. At the very least, Panthers fans can leave the preseason with a bit of optimism for their new quarterback moving into the new season.
(Top photo via Brian Westerholt/AP)