The Browns offense has dealt with a number of injuries this season, beginning with RB Nick Chubb's and RT Jack Conklin's season-ending injuries. Now, QB Deshaun Watson will also be out for the remainder of the season with a fracture in his throwing shoulder. Despite key players being out for the year, the offense knows they must unlock a different intensity moving forward.
"Guys are very locked in now," G Joel Bitonio said. "Everyone knows they have to pick up their slack a little more now. We understand we have a job to do still. We know who is going to be out there. Our goal is to do our part and do it to the best of our ability."
Without Watson missing time earlier in the season due to a shoulder injury, the Browns started both their backups at different points. Rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson started Week 4 against the Ravens. Then they started QB P.J. Walker two games this season in Week 6 and Week 8.He also took over in Week 7 against the Colts after Watson left in the first quarter with an injury. Walker threw for 618 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions.
When it comes to the Browns offense, their focus is solely on the upcoming game. They aren't concerned with winning the AFC North or playoffs. They are not looking at records. Their mentality is to go 1-0 each week.
As the Browns prepare to face the Steelers in Week 11, Thompson-Robinson will start at quarterback. This will be Thompson-Robinson's second start of his career.
Thompson-Robinson struggled in his first start, as he threw three interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 25.3. Despite his poor play, HC Kevin Stefanski believes in what he has seen from Thompson-Robinson in practices this season.
"I think with Dorian and that game, again, that was a tough spot that he was in," Stefanski said. "So, I think this week, having a full week of preparation, knowing that he's going to be the starter, I think is important. Every backup will tell you and it's the truth. They have to be ready to go after the first play."
Thompson-Robinson will need to develop chemistry with WR Amari Cooper and WR Elijah Moore since he hasn't had the opportunity to get many reps with the first team this year.
However, his chemistry should be in a decent spot with WR Cedric Tillman, who has earned more opportunities recently. Tillman has played in only three games this season. Against the Ravens in Week 10, he was targeted three times. He previously was only targeted four total times this year.
Tillman and Thompson-Robinson practiced together frequently while Tillman was not playing due to WR Donovan Peoples-Jones being in the starting role.
"Of course, with Deshaun back there, it's different in terms of play styles," Tillman said. "Even though I have chemistry pretty well with everyone, I got more reps with Dorian. We all just got to work a little harder and figure it out as a team. We have full confidence in Dorian."
All eyes will be on Thompson-Robinson, but his teammates have reassured him that he is not alone. Everyone will try to make his job much easier come Sunday. Not only must the offense elevate their play, but special teams must also intensify their efforts.
"We are all working towards a common goal," K Dustin Hopkins said. "No one accomplishes a win or loss solo. We have to band together and do the very best we can with what we have."