The NFL in 2020 is a daily navigation, and this week's Eagles-Browns game is a classic example of the challenges all 32 teams face preparing for 60 minutes of football. For the Eagles, the NovaCare Complex has for many months been fitted for the proper physical distancing and hand hygiene requirements to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and even with that and the daily reminders to players and coaches and staff of the imminent dangers, sometimes the pandemic gets the upper hand.
And sometimes COVID-19 invades the opposition, forcing the Eagles to adjust on the fly.
All of that is on the table now, just hours before the Eagles fly to Cleveland to play the 6-3 Browns in a pivotal football game. The Eagles learned on Friday that the Browns had placed star defensive end Myles Garrett on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning he will miss Sunday's game. Four other Browns – offensive tackles Jack Conklin and Chris Hubbard, fullback Andy Janovich, and placekicker Cody Parkey – were placed on the list earlier in the week, and Cleveland Head Coach Kevin Stefanski said he was "hopeful" that Conklin and Parkey are cleared on Saturday to play on Sunday. The Eagles, as they scouted all week, listed Garrett at the top of the "watch" list, given his league-leading 9.5 quarterback sacks, his four forced fumbles, and the way he generally takes over games with the "freak" talent he has, per offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
"He is a freak athlete and the way he bends to close on a quarterback is probably the best in the NFL," Johnson said.
Alas, the Eagles won't see Garrett after devoting a lot of film study and preparation for him.
"I think obviously he's a tremendous football player and he's definitely in the discussions for Defensive Player of the Year. He's having a heck of a season, leader of that football team. Listen, I can't speak specifically on their behalf, but I know that if it was obviously one of our players in that position, it's a blow," Head Coach Doug Pederson said.
"But you know what, just like us, the next guy steps up, the next guy has to play, next guy is going to be prepared. He's going to play hard. And listen, there's 10 other guys on that defense that can also play, and it's a good defense. We've got to be ready. We've got to be focused in and dialed in on what we're doing."
From a player's perspective, the feeling is the same. Garrett is a handful who moves up and down the line of scrimmage. He requires teams to account for his positioning and he demands double teams. Cleveland still has a strong defense and an excellent front, but Garrett is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate – he's the leader at this point in the season, probably – and the Eagles are going to adjust to his absence, just as they accounted for his expected presence.
"Anytime a great player like that goes down, it's a little bit of a sigh of relief," tight end Dallas Goedert said, "but all of those defensive ends are NFL players on NFL football fields, so they're going to be giving it their all and we've got to do the same, but losing Myles Garrett is going to be a little bit of a loss and it will kind of allow us to breathe a little more. You don't have to look for 95 on every play.
"It's definitely an advantage."
Later on Friday, the Eagles announced that Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Press Taylor and Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead would not be available for the Browns game due to COVID-19 protocols mandated by the league, and that their duties will be assumed by other members of the coaching staff.
Which team adjusts the best? Day to day in the league, the dangers are clear and they are present. COVID-19 is running rampant through the United States and the NFL is doing everything it can do to minimize the impact. But things change on a daily basis. The Eagles are like every team, required to be nimble and transparent and adaptable.
Beyond all of the X's and O's and the plans in place to beat the Browns, the news changed the landscape significantly on Friday. We'll learn on Sunday just how well the Eagles were able to make the transition win a game that looms vital in the playoff chase of 2020.