Following a regular-season which resulted in the Cleveland Browns snapping a 17-year playoff drought, the team’s pursuit of a Super Bowl, or even an opening-round victory, just got a whole lot tougher.
The Browns, who finished the 2020 season with an 11-5 mark, will be without their head coach, Kevin Stefanski when they take the field on Sunday to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. As the team revealed on Tuesday, Stefanski, two other coaches, and two players have tested positive for 2019.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is expected to serve as the acting head coach for the playoff opener.
Along with that news, it’s expected that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will call the plays for the Browns on Sunday, as NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported. Van Pelt was supposed to handle some playcalling duties in the preseason, which Garafolo cited, but it didn’t pan out.
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Kevin Stefanski Called ‘Out’ for Browns’ Playoff Game vs. Steelers
The official status of all five coaches/players is expected to come sooner than later, but as NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero revealed, Stefanski and the others are expected to be “out” for the game against the Steelers.
Stefanski, who’s a candidate for the NFL Coach of the Year Award, is in his first season with the Browns and has helped the entire franchise turn a corner. He’s played a major role in the team overcoming multiple injuries, including a season-ending one to star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
With Stefanski running the show, quarterback Baker Mayfield has also had arguably the best season of his young NFL career, completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns. Arguably the most impressive aspect of Mayfield’s season was his ball protection, as he tossed just eight interceptions.
Joel Bitonio & KhaDarel Hodge Test Positive for COVID-19
Shortly after the initial news broke on Stefanski, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero also revealed that left guard Joel Bitonio and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge had tested positive for COVID-19.
Assuming both players are sidelined against the Steelers, it would be a brutal blow, specifically with Bitonio, who’s started all 16 games in the past four seasons and made the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons. Bitonio is a staple of the Browns offensive line, which will create a tall task against a Steelers defense that led the league with 56 sacks during the regular season.
Hodge has been with the Browns for the past two seasons after going undrafted in 2018 out of Prairie View A&M. Over 25 career games in Cleveland, he’s totaled 15 receptions for 256 yards. The current year has been the best of Hodge’s career, as he’s pulled in 11-of-17 targets for 180 yards while seeing limited action on offense.
Browns’ Previous COVID-19 News
This will be Hodge’s second time on the reserve/COVID-19 list, as the Browns saw their wide receiver corps derailed just two weeks ago prior to the game against the New York Jets by the virus.
Four wide receivers, Hodge, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones all missed the game against the Jets after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. This left the Browns with a group of wideouts who had seen little playing time this season and also had minimal NFL experience.
Rookie Ja’Marcus Bradley was the only wide receiver to catch more than one pass for the team in that game, tallying five receptions for 60 yards. The Browns fell 23-16 to the Jets, which is what setup the win and get in Week 17 matchup with the Steelers.
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