Adversity is no stranger to the Cleveland Browns and now they will have to overcome a lot on Saturday when they play host to the Las Vegas Raiders.
When it rains, it pours on the Cleveland Browns. And by pours, I mean torrential downpours. That is yet again the case for this franchise as they face a steep uphill battle this weekend as they will be without a bunch of key contributors as COVID-19 has reared its ugly head inside the Browns facility.
After Wednesday, the Browns added 14 players to the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Those players are Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Jedrick Wills, Austin Hooper, Wyatt Teller, Takkarist McKinley, Drew Forbes, JoJo Natson, Ross Travis, John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Malik McDowell, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and Nate Meadors.
On Thursday, Case Keenum, Ronnie Harrison, Grant Delpit, A.J. Green were added to the list, bringing the total to 20.
Along with those players, head coach Kevin Stefanski is likely out due to testing positive for COVID for the second time in less than a year. If he is indeed out, special teams coach Mike Priefer will assume the head coaching duties while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays.
Now the two biggest questions for the Browns to answer in Week 15 go hand in hand; Can they overcome the adversity and who will step up as the next man up.
This is nothing new for the Browns, just the number of players being out. When the Browns traveled to Pittsburgh back on January third for a playoff matchup with the Steelers, they were without Stefanski and key offensive linemen. Priefer and Van Pelt had the duties they will assume on Saturday, and the Browns knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs due in large part to the 28-0 score Cleveland jumped out to.
That was then and this is now. The playoffs don’t technically start for another month, but for the Browns, the playoffs started last week. Every game from here on out should be approached with a must-win attitude. The AFC North is up for grabs and with Lamar Jackson being hobbled for the Ravens, the Browns can take the division despite the adversity.
So, with three-fifths of the offensive line unlikely to play, the line should look like this from left to right; Blake Hance, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Michael Dunn, and James Hudson. This will truly be where the next man up steps up.
As for the skill players, Nick Chubb will see a ton of touches being handed to him by Nick Mullens, who will make his Browns debut. Mullens has played in 16 career NFL games and has thrown for over 4,700 yards with 25 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
The Raiders are not good at stopping the run, so even with a makeshift offensive line, Chubb should be able to have himself quite the game with D’Ernest Johnson also being in the mix. David Njoku is back from the Reserve/COVID-19, so he will be back in the passing mix. Donovan Peoples-Jones has had at least 70 receiving yards in four of his last six games played.
On the defensive side of the ball Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Jadeveon Clowney will all be playing and are the caliber of players this defense can lean on. The secondary will look vastly different, but that doesn’t mean this team has to fold. When you have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a cornerback who is having an All-Pro season, that typically spells good things for your defense, even with a vast majority of the secondary being unable to play.
Mayfield was none too pleased with the NFL, even calling them out on Twitter over when, or more specifically when not, the Browns were tested. They were not tested in the morning, went and had a practice, got tested, and found out that more players had tested positive.
The NFL should, but will not postpone the game, because it’s all about the dolla dolla bill y’all.
Even with all of this adversity, the Browns could still find a way to win, which would be huge for them moving forward and could arguably be one of the franchise’s biggest wins ever.