There just hasn’t been enough time for the QB, 11 days following one of the most unlikely comebacks in recent memory, to have digested a whole lot more of the Rams playbook
When have you ever heard of this in sports: What can a player possibly do for an encore … in his first start?
But that’s the situation for Baker Mayfield in this week’s Monday Night Football game, which pits his team of less than two weeks, the Los Angeles Rams, at the Green Bay Packers (8:15 p.m. EST, TSN via ESPN).
Two Thursdays ago, only two days after the Rams claimed him off waivers from the Carolina Panthers, the fifth-year NFL quarterback came off the bench, knowing only a handful of Rams plays, and led them to an epic last-minute win over the Las Vegas Raiders.
Now, in his first Rams start, he will duel Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at wintry Lambeau Field, where the temperature at kickoff is forecast to be -8C with snow showers off and on.
Mayfield is starting because L.A.’s No. 1 QB Matthew Stafford is done for the season with a bruised spinal cord, and previous top backup John Wolford is inactive this week with a neck injury. Bryce Perkins will back up Mayfield.
There just hasn’t been enough time for Mayfield, 11 days following one of the most unlikely comebacks in recent memory, to have digested a whole lot more of head coach and chief offensive strategist Sean McVay’s thick playbook.
In fact McVay said you wouldn’t want such a newly arrived QB to even try.
“You want to give it to him in bit-size increments,” McVay said. “You want to be mindful of, all right, how do we get a good, tight game plan together that is reflective of what the 10 guys around him are comfortable with? What’s he comfortable with? And then ultimately that gives you some answers that you feel good about, against a tough defence.”
This is an underrated element of any high-level sport. That is, the teaching, coach to player — giving them enough to be good but not too much to overwhelm them.
“You have to be really intentional about (it),” McVay said. “(You) give them just enough to try to go play great. You can sometimes immerse these guys in information, and not all of it necessary to go play at a really high level. And so you want to be selective with the information that you’re giving.”
McVay, like a proud school teacher, said it has been impressive to see the notes Mayfield has been keeping since joining the team.
“You see the way that he’s really building on some of the initial understanding of those things, and that’s what’s been impressive.”
Neither of these NFC teams has more than a sliver of a chance to make the playoffs as a wild card.
The Rams, 4-9, are finishing up a disappointing, injury-ravaged defence of their Super Bowl championship. The Packers, 5-8, might not even catch the 7-7 Detroit Lions for second place in the NFC North, already clinched by the 11-3 Minnesota Vikings.
With the weather pure-grade wintry, the Packers are a worthy seven-point favourite. Warm-weather teams typically don’t fare well up north in outdoor weather in December.
Ah, but Mayfield just played four full seasons in Cleveland. He’s unlikely to be affected by the cold and snow, even if he says these will be the coldest conditions he has ever played in.
“I’ve played in a couple games that were pretty cold, maybe snow, a little bit rainy, or windy,” Mayfield said. “But temperature-wise, this will be the coldest for me.
“(But) everybody’s got to deal with it. When it comes to cold weather, there’s different preparation, different things you can wear. We’re going to explore all those things just to eliminate it as much as you can.”
John Kryk writes a weekly newsletter on NFL matters. That’s where you can first see his straight-up picks each week. You can have the newsletter automatically dropped into your email inbox on Wednesdays simply by signing up — for free — at https://torontosun.com/newsletters/