Browns receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones could be back with the team by Thursday as long as they continue to test negative for COVID-19, coach Kevin Stefanski told the media on Monday. All three receivers were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday and were inactive during Cleveland's 23-16 loss to the Jets.
Landry leads the team with 67 receptions for 789 yards with three touchdowns. Higgins is second on the team with 544 yards and four touchdowns. Peoples-Jones, a 2020 sixth-round pick, caught eight of 11 targets for 221 yards and a touchdown during the Browns' previous three games.
Instead of clinching a playoff berth with a win on Sunday, the Browns will have to defeat the visiting Steelers on Sunday to earn their first playoff appearance since 2002. The return of Landry, Higgins and Peoples-Jones would certainly be welcomed news for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who completed a season-low 52.8% of his passes in Sunday's loss. The Browns, despite having a depleted receiving corps, attempted 53 passes. Conversely, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt had a combined 15 carries for 39 yards.
"The plan was not to throw it that often," Stefanski said when asked about Sunday's run-pass ratio. "In the second half, that's kind of where the game went as we were moving the ball. We felt confident in the plan … We just didn't make enough plays. You got into it with a plan, and then you've got to be ready to pivot and adapt based on what they're giving you."
Stefanski took some ownership for some of the struggles Mayfield endured on Sunday. Along with his struggles to consistently connect with his receivers, Mayfield fumbled three times, with two fumbles leading to 10 Jets points.
"He's already looking to get better in these meetings," Stefanski said. "It's not one thing, and it's definitely not one person. I think he had some great plays yesterday, and he had some plays he wishes he had back. But I have a ton of confidence in him."
Adding to the challenge of this week's preparations is the unknown as it relates to who the Steelers will and won't play, as Pittsburgh has already locked up its spot in the 2020 playoffs. Among the Steelers' veterans that could be sidelined for Sunday's game include Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Stefanski, whose team suffered a 38-7 loss to the Steelers back in Week 6, said that he is not overly concerned with who the Steelers send out on the field on Sunday.
"I think the challenge is playing a really good Pittsburgh Steelers team. They're well-coached, they have a bunch of good players. I have a ton of respect for how they play. We have to have a really good week of preparation. That's the challenge for us is a really good team."