What the Heck? Missing the Entire WR Room
- I waited to write the game preview this week until I heard which players were out due to COVID-19 on Sunday. I had anxiety as I waited, and that was partially eased when I heard that B.J. Goodson was the player who tested positive. But it kicked right back to high gear when the news broke shortly after that the Browns’ Top 4 wide receivers were deemed close contacts and are ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Jets.
- Well, then — let’s get to know who the Browns will have available at wide receiver, shall we? The players are Marvin Hall, Ja’Marcus Bradley, and Derrick Willies. It might not be as big of an issue if this news came earlier in the week, but these guys don’t have a single catch for Cleveland all season and have probably had virtually zero practice reps with Baker Mayfield.
Let’s Meet the New Guys
- Marvin Hall (5-10, 190 lbs) was claimed off waivers from the Detroit Lions a few weeks ago. He logged 17 catches for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. He reportedly had a 4.28 40-time at his Pro Day several years ago, so his speed is definitely intriguing. He has gains of 73 and 55 yards this season. If the Browns can continue to protect Mayfield well and the Jets bite hard to stop the running game, we could see Mayfield take a shot to him deep off of playaction.
- Derrick Willies (6-4, 207 lbs) gets a surprise chance at redemption. You may have forgotten, but Willies was one of those players who fans were excited about as an undrafted free agent back in 2018. Willies got his shot in 2018 against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5, when he caught 3 passes for 61 yards. With two minutes left in overtime in that game, Mayfield hit Willies for 39 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Later that week, he tore his ACL during practice. Willies caught 6 passes for 74 yards and 1 touchdown during the 2019 preseason, but was on the practice squad all year. He was re-signed to the practice squad in November. Even though it wasn’t with this year’s coaching staff, Mayfield and Willies have probably had the most work together.
- Ja’Marcus Bradley (6-0, 198 lbs) is the final receiver on the club, and he is the guy who should technically know Stefanski’s playbook the most since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in April and has been on the practice squad all season. Here is the scouting report that Dane Brugler had on Bradley in college:
Lining up as the “X” receiver, his production steadily increased each season, including 10 receiving touchdowns each of the last two seasons. Bradley has strong hands to turn erratic throws into completions and he won’t flinch working the middle of the field. While he runs efficient routes and surprises with some shake after the catch, he won’t accelerate past defenders, lacking burst in his releases or out of his breaks. Overall, Bradley has only average size, speed and strength and might have trouble uncovering vs. NFL-level cornerbacks, but his dependable ball skills and concentration give him a legitimate chance to make a pro roster.
What Does Cleveland Do?
- I think it makes sense that Kevin Stefanski will lean heavily on his running game, the tight ends, and the playaction passing game. That actually doesn’t stray too far from what the club normally does. But we might also see a mix of David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, and Kareem Hunt play some snaps at wide receiver.
- Remember that this Jets’ secondary is bad. This is a game where even without chemistry, Mayfield might find wide open players despite the lack of reps with Hall, Willies, and Bradley. It would be smart to keep some of their routes simple — keep throws to the outside, crossing routes. I think what you’ll lose is the smooth systematic things. We haven’t seen alignment issues all year with the Browns, but you can’t expect a new crop of players to be picture perfect. Limit their rep, but still include them at the same time. Make no mistake about it — these guys will have productive days on Sunday statistically. The issue will be if there is a miscommunication that leads to a turnover.
- The Jets might not be a very good defense, but they play pretty well in the trenches, so it would be a mistake to just line up and run the ball all game. Present that threat, and find those wide open receiver, backs, and tight ends through the air. Gain positive yardage in the running game with Nick Chubb. That’s the gameplan.
- Defensively, the defense also takes a hit without B.J. Goodson, who has been the underrated linebacker in the center of the defense all year. He’s the only linebacker who has been on the field for most of the snaps. Jacob Phillips is also out as a close contact to Goodson. Cleveland will have to rely on Malcolm Smith to assume a bigger role, and for Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson to step up their game. Wilson was a healthy scratch last week for an in-house issue.
- The Jets have the 32nd-ranked offense in the NFL. A lot of what they do get in yardage comes in garbage time. Sam Darnold has been terrible. The Browns’ defense has to see opportunity here — to a degree, it’s better that a sense of urgency exists. The Jets won their first game last week. The receivers are down. This defense knows this is their time to shine. Let’s get ready for Andrew Sendejo, Denzel Ward, Karl Joseph, and Terrance Mitchell to have a big week.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “We didn’t want this game to happen like this, but I trust Kevin Stefanski, ad we are fortunate that this circumstance comes against the Jets.” Browns 27, Jets 17
NOTE: All the predictions below were made prior to the COVID-related personnel moves.
Thomas Moore: “The Browns continue their march to the playoffs with a return engagement in North Jersey, this time against the one-win Jets. Baker Mayfield has the offense working and the Jets already had their Super Bowl last week with an upset of the Rams. New York quarterback Sam Darnold is bad, head coach Adam Gase is bordering on Hue Jackson-levels of incompetency, and this is just the type of game the Browns need as they prepare for a potential winner-takes-the-division game against Pittsburgh in Week 17. Expect this game to be similar to the one against the Giants, where the Browns simply go about their business and pick up win No. 11 on the season. ” Browns 20, Jets 7
Ezweav: “If there was ever a game to be confident about...holy smokes. You’ve got the Jets who are just coming off avoiding the ignominy of a winless season, and immediately faced criticism for screwing up their shot at Quarterback Jeff Spicoli out of Clemson (though he may not look quite so hot after the mad Buckeyes get done with him). So that’s fun.
In the meantime, we have literally everything to play for except the first seed. The division is still within our grasp and if we don’t win, this great season could very well end without a playoff entry.
So from a motivational standpoint, the Browns MUST win, and the Jets have everything to gain by losing (evidently they feel like Darnold’s stupid face is no longer fixable). Then add to that the fact that the Browns are a substantially better team, with superior talent and coaching. When you combine those two things I think we as Browns fans know what to expect.” Jets 48, Browns 17
rufio: “The Browns are focused and know what is at stake in this game. Myles continues to recover after getting Covid, and with Denzel Ward back this defense looks a lot better. Offense takes care of business, and the Browns do too.” Browns 28, Jets 13
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.