The Browns embark on a two-game road trip where they will face the Broncos in Week 12 and stay out West to face the Rams in Week 13. Their first test comes on Sunday in Denver, where they will take on a Broncos team that has won their last four games.
So, let's take a look at three of the biggest keys to Sunday's game.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson's comfort level in first road game
Rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson will start his second consecutive game when the Browns face the Broncos on Sunday. However, this will be his first road game of his NFL career.
In his second career start in Week 11, Thompson-Robinson appeared comfortable in the pocket and also using his legs when necessary. He connected with his pass catchers on critical passes, worked through a handful of missed throws and used their run game. He took control of the offense and led the Browns on a drive with less than a minute and a half left in the game that set the Browns up for a game-winning field goal.
He'll have to do so again on Sunday in a more hostile environment on the road. HC Kevin Stefanksi said that they will lean on the experience from Seattle. Even though QB. P.J. Walker started against the Seahawks, Thompson-Robinson played a role in the communication on the sidelines throughout the game.
"When you go into these buildings and stadiums that are that loud, there are certain things that you have to do offensively to communicate," Stefanski said. "And that's communicating in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage (and) on the sideline. So, Dorian obviously was a big part of that and experienced that. But yeah, it's a tough place to play and the crowd noise is a big part of that."
Thompson-Robinson said this week that he's continuing to grow more comfortable with the game. He's focused on working through the offense and his reads, as well as his timing with the wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. With each passing day in practice taking reps with the first team and studying, he's grown more comfortable in his role at the helm of the Browns offense.
"I think anytime you get in there and you get comfortable, he hasn't had that many opportunities to throw the ball to (Amari) Coop and Elijah (Moore) and those guys when you're working with a second or third team," G Joel Bitonio said. "So, just growing like that, and he's learning, but he's very comfortable in the huddle. Like, he has confidence about himself, so all those things are positive. I think the more experience he gets, the more he can improve a little bit."
Limit their giveaways
The Broncos have forced 14 takeaways in their last five games and has played an important factor in their success as of late – especially in their last four wins. They've done so in a number of ways, through interceptions, fumbles, sack fumbles and ripping the ball out of the running back's hands like they did against the Bills in Week 10.
While limiting their turnovers and protecting the ball has been an emphasis all season for the Browns, it especially will be key on Sunday against Denver. They had three total turnovers in their last two games against the Steelers and the Ravens and had their first game of the season against Cardinals in Week 9 that they did not commit a turnover. Stefanski said that in order to limit those giveaways, it comes down to technique.
"You have to be great in your technique," Stefanski said. "Whether you're the quarterback in the pocket, whether you're a receiver, a tight end, a running back, touching it. And then defensively, any opportunity you can get with the ball in the air or via a fumble, you have to go get it. Special teams as well, because this team has done a great job of getting the football."
WR Amari Cooper said that it comes down to fundamentals in terms of taking care of the football – coming back to the ball when they can, not standing there after they break off their routes and cutting off the ability of the cornerback to undercut the ball. For their pass catchers, it will help limit the opportunities for the Broncos defense to come away with a takeaway.
Bitonio added that the Broncos have a solid front seven, and that their secondary can cover well, too. They have to win the turnover margin against the Broncos in Sunday's matchup.
Handle QB Russell Wilson and the Broncos offense
DE Myles Garrett said that over the course of the season, the Broncos have incorporated more of their run game and created a more balanced offensive approach with the run and pass game, with Russell Wilson at the helm. They have 19 passing touchdowns this season, which is ninth in the league.
Wilson has an accuracy of being able to stay in the pocket and make throws, Garrett said. He can also get out of the pocket, scramble, stay behind the line and make throws. He can gain yards using his legs and has a unique vision of the field with the long ball. Wilson also takes care of the ball well, as he has only four interceptions and one fumble this season.
"(He's) running their offense really well and is very capable of making those off schedule plays that he's made his whole career," Stefanski said. "You've seen him do it in these games. He gets out of the pocket, and he can run, he can throw it to all areas of the field. So, he's a major point of (the) offense."
The Broncos offense is also capitalizing off the field position that their defense puts them in with the forced turnovers. They are tied for fifth in the turnover margin with plus-6.
"Their offense is just being there for them, whether it's three or six," Garrett said. "They're putting points on the board and once they continue to stack those big momentum plays, offense putting the ball in, that's when the defense can really go hunt. I think that's really what has set them apart."
The Broncos' run game has also improved over the course of the season. After a slow start, in five of their last six games have rushed for over 100 yards. They are 27th in the league in rushing attempts this season with 247, and average 4.5 yards per carry. However, the Browns have to find ways to take the run game out of their offense.
"We're always trying to play sound defense," Stefanski said. "Certainly, sound run defense takes all eleven guys doing their job, being where they're supposed to be, and then ultimately just getting the player on the ground."