It will include a second-career start for rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. But this time around, he'll receive more than an hour's notice.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski announced Thompson-Robinson will start for the Browns this Sunday against Pittsburgh, another potentially pivotal game in an incredibly tight AFC North race that grew even closer following Cleveland's comeback win over Baltimore in Week 10.
The decision might come as a surprise to those who witnessed Thompson-Robinson's lone start of his career, a 19 of 36, 121-yard, three-interception nightmare of an outing in a blowout loss to Baltimore in Week 4. But since the Browns are faced with a tough choice between him and veteran backup PJ Walker, Stefanski is deciding to go with a player with a higher production ceiling.
"For us, obviously we did a ton of work on him coming out. He's played a lot of football (at UCLA), he's very athletic, can make plays," Stefanski said. "Has a very good understanding of what we do, of our offense and those type of things. He's a young player that I think will just continue to get better."
Stefanski indirectly admitted he'd have preferred to keep his selection of Thompson-Robinson a secret until Sunday, but because his choice was reported by locals shortly after the Watson news broke on Wednesday morning, Stefanksi said he had no choice but to go public. If anything, it will save breath for pundits who would have spent the next few days debating who Cleveland should choose as Watson's replacement.
How it plays out is anyone's guess. Thompson-Robinson looked very overwhelmed by Baltimore's defense in his surprise start in Week 4, failing to give the Browns more than a puncher's chance of competing with their division rivals and prompting Stefanski to turn to Walker during Watson's absence. Walker helped the Browns to two wins (one as a starter, a 19-17 triumph over San Francisco), but also proved to be a turnover machine, throwing five interceptions in three games and making the going much more difficult for a Cleveland team that has been carried to 6-3 by its stellar defense.
Walker did lead a couple of game-winning drives for Cleveland in victories over San Francisco and Indianapolis, and nearly pulled off quite a comeback in Seattle. But the turnovers outweighed the positives for Walker, especially in Cleveland's loss to the Seahawks, which preempted Watson's return -- an ultimately temporary solution to Cleveland's quarterback quandary -- in Week 9 against Arizona.
Though he won't start Sunday, Stefanski credited Walker for his contributions and noted he'll need to be just as ready to play as Thompson-Robinson.
Instead of turning back to the giveaway-prone Walker, Stefanski is rolling with a rookie who flashed plenty of potential in preseason appearances. Thompson-Robinson will take the field Sunday with the benefit of a full week of preparation -- a luxury he did not have in his last appearance -- and will attempt to carry over some positive practice performances that included Stefanski awarding Thompson-Robinson with a game ball for his scout team efforts during Cleveland's preparation for Baltimore.
"Young players need exposure," Stefanski said on Wednesday when asked why he felt confident in selecting Thompson-Robinson as his starter. "You get better in practice; Sometimes, you get better through games."
He'll face an opportunistic Steelers defense that has made the going tough for most every quarterback not named Brock Purdy this season. Cleveland will hope he returns to his preseason form in order to help the Browns score a key win over the rival Steelers (6-3).