The Cleveland Browns have survived key injuries and a brutal month of weather during a three-game homestand to remain in contention for a playoff spot.
Now the Browns (7-3) are trying to navigate a COVID-19 outbreak and a trip to Florida for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9). On Wednesday, they closed their facility for the second time this week when linebacker Sione Takitaki became the fifth Browns player to be placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.
Standout defensive end Myles Garrett will miss his second straight game after a positive test a week ago. Wednesday afternoon, coach Kevin Stefanski said he expects the Browns to also be without Takitaki, fullback Andy Janovich, and defensive end Joe Jackson, who are on the list. Offensive lineman Chris Hubbard is also on the list, but Stefanski said he "has a chance" to return.
Add in an injury to top cornerback Denzel Ward (calf), who is expected to miss multiple weeks, and the Browns' defense is on slippery ground.
"It takes all of us," said Browns running back Nick Chubb on Wednesday. "No matter who is out, we have guys who are ready to step up to the plate and be big for us."
Chubb (575 yards rushing, five touchdowns) and RB Kareem Hunt (644 yards, four TDs) have been the biggest force in the Browns' success this season. The duo are on track for a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons, rank in the top 15 in the NFL in rushing -- Hunt is ninth, Chubb 15th -- have Cleveland positioned as the third-best rushing team in the NFL (156.8 yards per game).
Cleveland has used that run-first approach to win two straight and three of the last four despite scoring one offensive touchdown or less in the last three games. The Browns are now second in the AFC North, behind undefeated Pittsburgh (10-0) but ahead of Baltimore (6-4).
Cleveland rode a three-sack performance, with a safety, from DE Olivier Vernon to a 22-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
Jacksonville has dropped nine straight games after winning its season opener, and has its own COVID-19 issues to sort through. Coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday that three defensive coaches, including defensive coordinator Todd Walsh, DL assistant Jason Rebrovich and defensive assistant Dwayne Stukes, will miss the game due to COVID-19 protocols.
In addition, Marrone is switching quarterbacks. Veteran Mike Glennon will start his first game since early in the 2017 season. Gardner Minshew, who has missed three straight games with a thumb injury, is the backup.
Out of the mix for now is Jake Luton, 0-3 as a starter over the last three weeks.
Glennon's expectations are in line with where the Jags are currently.
"We're a 1-9 football team," said the 30-year-old Glennon. "I'm just going to do whatever I can to help us win. I've been through some good, I've been through some bad. At this point in my career, I want to go out and play like I have nothing to lose."
Glennon is 6-16 in his NFL career as a starter. His most recent run as a starter came with the Bears in 2017 before he was supplanted by Mitch Trubisky.
Both teams had substantial injury lists on Wednesday. The Jaguars had 14 players listed but wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. (hamstring) and tight end James O'Shaughnessy (knee) were both limited participants after missing last week's 27-3 home loss to Pittsburgh.
The Browns had more than 20 players on Wednesday's list, with eight players listed as non-participants due to non-injury related reasons. Among that subset were four more linebackers -- Mack Wilson, Malcolm Smith, Jacob Phillips and Elijah Lee.
--Field Level Media