When the Browns kick off their first playoff game in nearly two decades Sunday at Heinz Field, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt hopes he'll be able to keep head coach Kevin Stefanski on his living room couch.
Yes, that's one of Van Pelt's goals as he takes the play sheet and delivers calls to the Browns' offense for the first time this season. Those responsibilities have belonged to Stefanski all year, but he won't be on the sidelines Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Now, those decisions belong to Van Pelt. He won't be allowed to have any contact with Stefanski once the game begins, but he hopes his calls will still be in line with what Stefanski is thinking himself as he watches from the TV.
"My hope is there's not too many times where he's yelling at his TV going, 'What the heck are you doing?'" Van Pelt joked. "I have a good feel of Kevin and how he's calling out throughout the course of the season. I want to stay true to his beliefs."
Stefanski has had a backup plan for play-calling duties since the spring, and Van Pelt has always been an optimal fit for the role. Stefanski said in training camp he was deciding between himself and Van Pelt, and when he announced he would be calling the plays, he reiterated Van Pelt would still have a heavy role in play decisions.
When Stefanski has called plays, he's spoken with Van Pelt and his group of assistants to hone in on the best option. When he's mapped out play sequences and selected designs for the offense to implement each week, Van Pelt has been there in a virtual discussion with him.
So when Stefanski received news he'd be out Sunday, he didn't have to scramble to make plans. Van Pelt was up next for play-calling, and he's confident his offense is in good hands.
"AVP has been a huge part of our offense's success," Stefanski said. "He is a huge part of play calling. He knows the things that we believe in. He knows how we play. He spends every waking moment with the quarterback, which is important when you are talking about trying to get him in a rhythm and comfort level."
The quarterback, Baker Mayfield, has a high amount of faith in Van Pelt, too. Mayfield has worked closely with Van Pelt, who was a nine-year NFL quarterback veteran and has previously found coaching success with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton.
Mayfield has dedicated a large amount of his 2020 success to Van Pelt's tutelage. The duo honed in on Mayfield's footwork in the offseason and have worked in accordance with Stefanski to bring his game to a new level of efficiency.
Now, their relationship will expand to a new boundary Sunday in one of the most important games of their careers. Mayfield, however, doesn't expect to feel any different vibes as he hears Van Pelt through his helmet earpiece in the huddle instead of Stefanski.
"I think the key for me is to continue stressing on the things we've talked about — protecting the football and putting us in a position to have success," Mayfield said. "Take care of the ball, and keep the chains moving.
"Whatever calls they make, we have to execute them."
When Van Pelt puts on the headset and looks down at the play sheet, he will attempt to put himself in the same mindset as Stefanski. Stefanski might have been the one directing play calls all season, but he's found success because of the work and diligence of Van Pelt.
Now, it's up to Van Pelt to carry that success for another week — and hopefully keep Stefanski at ease from his living room.
"It's tough when you lose your leader," he said, "but at some point, it's like being a parent and sending your kid to college. Hopefully, you have done enough to get them ready for what is ahead. I think that is kind of the mindset."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday by the Browns photo team