CLEVELAND — To say that this week in Berea has been a nightmare for the Cleveland Browns may not do justice to the adversity the team has dealt with. As of Thursday morning, the team has had to place 17 players and coaches on the COVID-19/reserve list due to positive tests for the virus.
There was plenty of reason for the Browns to feel good about their playoff chances coming off last weekend’s win over the Baltimore Ravens, but much of that has been dashed thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Vaccinated players that have tested positive for the virus must be symptom-free and produce two negative tests, 24 hours apart, before they can return to action. This means that everyone on the COVID-19/reserve list for the Browns isn’t ruled out from this Saturday’s game against the Raiders, but things aren’t looking good.
All that said, the Browns still have a game to play this weekend as the Las Vegas Raiders come to First Energy Stadium on Saturday afternoon. With a win, the team’s playoff hopes brighten up, while a loss would put a damper on them and force the Browns to win their remaining three games to have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.
Here are three keys to beating the Raiders on Saturday afternoon:
Myles Garrett goes legend
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett is having a fantastic season and very well may be on his way to a Defensive Player of the Year award. Last week against the Ravens he made his biggest play of the season to date, a strip-sack of Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley, in which he returned the fumble for a touchdown. With so many offensive players in question for the game, Garrett is going to need to have another play just like last week, and maybe even more than one of them.
There’s no doubting that Garrett is one of the best players in the NFL, and certainly the best player on the Browns. When things go wrong, the best players are the ones that need to step up and right the ship. This is a chance for Garrett to cement himself as the best edge rusher in the league. To add to that, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has been sacked 31 times so far this year, sixth-most in the NFL. Garrett should have little problem finding his way to the quarterback and capitalizing once he’s there.
With the situation the Browns offensive line is currently dealing with -- Jedrick Wills Jr., Wyatt Teller on the COVID-19/reserve list, Jack Conklin on injured reserve -- it’s difficult to expect the Browns to put together a number of long scoring drives. That becomes an even tougher task when it’s considered that Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and Baker Mayfield are also on the COVID-19/reserve list.
The Browns need to create turnovers against the Raiders not only to help keep points off the scoreboard, but also to shorten the field for the offense. This shorthanded group likely isn’t going to be able to travel 75-plus yards to put up touchdowns many times throughout the game, but asking it to go 40 yards for a score after a forced fumble or an interception is a much more manageable task.
Shorten the game
With the COVID-19 issues, and it looking like heavy rain for much of the game on Saturday, this week is as good of a time as ever to pound the football with running back Nick Chubb. Even with the Browns being down three starters on the offensive line, this may be the area they still have an offensive advantage over the Raiders. Las Vegas’ defense ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 125.3. That’s a number the Browns should be able to eclipse, and in doing so, shorten the game.
The Raiders still have some good weapons on offense, especially if tight end Darren Waller plays -- he did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday due to knee and back injuries. Playing keep-away with the football is a strategy often needed when one team is at a serious talent disadvantage, and that’s the spot the Browns find themselves in. Limiting the number of possessions for each side would certainly help the Browns win what they will need to be a low-scoring game.