The Browns’ method of designating Tyrod Taylor their starting quarterback for 2018 has been a bit mad, but Taylor on Thursday made the decision look like the sanest no-brainer for coach Hue Jackson.
In hindsight, Jackson should have held an open competition between Taylor and rookie Baker Mayfield rather than consistently closing the door to one. Taylor is a veteran and has by no means earned his status by default, but treating Mayfield as the No. 2 QB from the beginning and providing him no first-team reps was detrimental to first overall pick’s development.
Then came the moment in Thursday’s critical third exhibition against the Eagles when most everyone in the Dawg Pound was holding their breath as Taylor awkwardly banged his left (non-throwing) hand on a fourth-and-goal run. If the injury had been as bad as it looked, Jackson’s hand would have been forced and he would have had to turn to Mayfield, who replaced Taylor on the Browns’ next possession.
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In any other year, that play would have been the disaster that all of Twitter immediately thought it was, but in 2018 Cleveland is enjoying its best QB fortunes since the franchise’s expansion reboot in 1999.
Taylor came back in to relieve Mayfield in the second quarter before Mayfield relieved Taylor as planned in the second half.
Mayfield has flashed ability as a passer and runner in his first three games of the preseason, which gives the Browns a good problem at the position, but he couldn’t have done anything to match Taylor’s leadership and winning experience, no matter how many “wow” plays he made.
Some might have thought it was crazy for Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley to put Taylor at further risk by putting him back into Thursday’s game, but consider the move a reward for Taylor’s toughness, which he kept showing while taking more lumps from Philadelphia’s pass rush upon his return.
Taylor is used to running around and protecting his body when pass plays aren’t there. In three seasons as the Bills’ starter, he was relatively durable given the amount of his dropbacks, sacks, scrambles and designed runs. He missed just three games because of injury.
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The Browns have an above-average offensive line, but it’s definitely not the same in pass protection after losing left tackle Joe Thomas to retirement. Mayfield hasn’t had the benefit of playing with the first-string group, but he also hasn’t been exposed to legitimate first-string pressure. Taylor has seen enough of it to where he looks comfortable when he should instead be rattled.
Taylor hasn’t turned the ball over once in the preseason. That’s what the Browns should expect from him; he had only 21 giveaways in three seasons with the Bills. Mayfield cracked by throwing his first interception against the Eagles. He also got battered on the play, ending his night.
Taylor isn’t a typical recycled stopgap. His steadiness is something the Browns have lacked for a long time. Mayfield, as exciting as he can be if given the chance to start immediately, figures to be erratic.
One other factor in Taylor’s favor: his clear chemistry with current go-to wide receiver Jarvis Landry, which started building before Mayfield was drafted. Potential go-to wide receiver Josh Gordon hasn’t gotten into games yet, but his presence gives Taylor, one of the NFL’s most efficient deep-ball throwers, yet another edge.
Taylor had done nothing before Thursday to lose the job, but he still needed an “a-ha” moment of separation. It came when he reminded everyone of his resolve in reaching this point with a second NFL team. When he re-entered the game, the Browns received the ultimate confirmation that there was no reason for Jackson to ever do any second-guessing.