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Baker Mayfield Continues to Thrive Under Pressure | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Texans

The only starting NFL quarterback with a positive EPA when under pressure, the Bucs' Baker Mayfield had another strong outing throwing under difficult circumstances in Houston

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Baker Mayfield wasn't pressured on the touchdown pass that looked like it could be the game-winner on Sunday in Houston. With the Bucs trailing, 33-30 and less than a minute left on the clock, Mayfield got a quick pass off (2.2 seconds from snap to throw) from the Texans' 14-yard line, fitting it over the head of linebacker Henry To'oTo'o and into the hands of tight end Cade Otton on a straight go route out of the right slot.

There were only 46 seconds left on the game clock after that play and the Bucs, now leading 37-33, had a win probability at that point of 88.6%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Of course, we know that lead didn't last, as C.J. Stroud directed a six-play 75-yard drive ending in his fifth touchdown pass of the day with six seconds left. The Bucs dropped their fourth straight decision, but the continued impressive play by Mayfield when under pressure had a lot to do with keeping them in the game until the final ticks of the clock.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Mayfield was pressured on 15 of his 34 dropbacks, which resulted in 30 pass attempts, two sacks and two scrambles. That means he got off 11 passes while under pressure, and those plays resulted in seven completions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers produce a passer rating of 117.6, which was almost identical to his overall rating in the game of 119.4.

A good example of Mayfield's work under pressure came on Tampa Bay's very first offensive snap. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard, working over left tackle, got pressure on Mayfield from the back side and was just 0.3 yards away from the quarterback at the time of the throw. Of course, this was largely because Greenard jumped early on the play and was flagged for being offside. The Buccaneers declined that penalty because Mayfield was able to recognize that Otton had found an open seam up the right numbers and he hit him in stride for a gain of 24 yards. Next Gen Stats gave the pass a completion probability of just 37.9%.

Another good example was the Bucs' second-longest play of the day, a 33-yard catch and run by running back Rachaad White. The Bucs lined up with Mike Evans wide left, Chris Godwin in the slot a few yards to his right and tight ends Cade Otton and Payne Durham bunched tight at the right end of the offensive line, with White in the backfield. Evans ran a go, Godwin cut underneath him on a corner route and Durham, who had gone in motion from right to left before the snap, leaked out into the left flat. Otton stayed in to block and ended up in a one-on-one with defensive end Jerry Hughes, who used a 0.88-second get-off to quickly get around Otton and behind Mayfield. The Bucs' passer quickly assessed that Evans, Godwin and Durham were all well-covered and chose the underneath throw to White, who had released out to the left side near the hashmarks. With all of the defensive action heading left due to the Bucs' route combination, White was able to find a lot of open turf when he quickly cut back to his right and got past linebacker Chris Harris.

Houston was able to get pressure without blitzing very often. The Texans only brought four rushers on 84.4% of Mayfield's dropbacks, but still got pressure on 40.7% of those plays. Fortunately for the Bucs' offense, that pressure did not result in many negative plays and Mayfield directed the team's highest-scoring attack of the 2023 season.

This productive work under pressure is nothing new for Mayfield during his brief time with the Buccaneers. The sixth-year passer is the only player in the NFL this season who has started more than one game at quarterback and has a positive EPA on passes under pressure. EPA stands for expected points added, a Next Gen stat that, using a model based on thousands of previous play outcomes, measures how each play potentially affects the score of the game relative to the situation. It is the change of expected points value from pre-play to post-play.

Mayfield's overall EPA when under pressure in 2023 is +0.9, which doesn't sound particularly impressive until it is noted that the next quarterback on the list, Buffalo's Josh Allen, is at -7.1. After that it's the Cowboys' Dak Prescott, at -8.7. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, a certified wizard when plays break down, is at -54.3.

Mayfield has been pressured on 117 dropbacks this season, and 13 of those have resulted in sacks. He has gotten off 90 passes on those plays, completing 54 of them for 699 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, for a passer rating of 99.3. Of those 54 completions, 47 of them have resulted in positive EPA on the play.

It goes without saying that all quarterbacks, from MVP candidates to journeymen, are going to have an easier time operating the offense when they are not being pressured by pass-rushers. At the moment, however, Mayfield actually has a better passer rating when under pressure than when not under pressure. That fact is very unlikely to remain true throughout the entire season, but what does appear to be true is that the Bucs' new starting quarterback can consistently make things happen under difficult circumstances.

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