Behind Enemy (Side)lines: Cleveland Browns

Behind Enemy (Side)lines is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, NFL and Browns analyst Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com and WKNR 850 gives insight on the Texan upcoming opponent.
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The Browns are all alone atop the AFC North for the first time since 1994. What's the mood in Cleveland like this week?*

"People are starting to get excited about this team. There's been a lot of skepticism up until that Thursday night win on the road in Cincinnati. It's the first time the Browns won on the road in their division in 17 games. It took a while after the Browns loss in Jacksonville earlier this year for people to believe this team was headed in the right direction. I think that Thursday night game has done it and fan excitement is really intensifying."

If you could pick the biggest key to the Browns success and 6-3 record so far this season, what would it be?

"The easy answer is Mike Pettine and his coaching staff who have been tremendous. But, I really think Brian Hoyer at quarterback and having him healthy and able to develop with the team has been priceless because the Browns haven't had the same quarterback get through the 16 games in a season in five or six years.

Their instability at quarterback has led to instability in coaching and it's just been a vicious circle. They are finally establishing continuity at the two most important positions, head coach and quarterback."

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What has Brian Hoyer done well and what has he struggled with this year?*

"He is a very cerebral quarterback, hard worker, a guy who is very blue-collar. He comes from here so, in that respect, he symbolizes the work ethic of blue-collar Cleveland. Above the shoulders, he's very smart, dissects defenses, does the presnap reads. Those are the strengths of his game. He doesn't get credit but he has a very, very quick release of the ball that I think the secret to his passing.

"He doesn't have the greatest arm like Ryan Mallett but it's strong enough. He is like the perfect quarterback for this team at this time."

Does Hoyer's success complicate his future in Cleveland? He's a free agent after this season with Johnny Manziel as his backup. Are there rumblings of what the Browns plan to do after the season?

"Yeah, only every day! It's a topic every single day in Cleveland. Manziel is a unique character. I've never seen anyone come into the league as a rookie with his immense fan base. On the other hand, you have Hoyer, who is a local kid and there's an immense fan base for him.

"I think this is going to come to a head at some point in the offseason. To be honest with you, I don't know which way the Browns are going to go on this. Hoyer has worked hard to win everyone over and it's still not done. The Browns have not shown their hand as to what they are going to do.

"Hoyer wants to be a starting quarterback. He doesn't want to deal with the Manziel shadow that exists here, so it's going to be interesting to see what the Browns do."

How has Ben Tate into the three-man running game and has he lived up to expectations in Cleveland?

"Well, I don't think it's turned out the way he expected. I think Ben was happy to get out of Arian Foster's shadow and stake his claim as the No. 1 feature back. He started the year and naturally got a knee injury in the first game that set him back for two games. He's been the starter except for last week. It looks like he's lost the job to a rookie named Terrance West. |

"The thing about this Browns running game is that they use all three backs. The other guy is Isaiah Crowell who is a rookie also. Together, they produced 12 rushing touchdowns, which is third in the league.

"Tate isn't too happy. He's lost his starting job but the way they use him here, he could be back at any moment. They interchange those guys."

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The Browns defense may be very well underestimated. What notable changes has head coach Mike Pettine brought?*

"Pettine had this reputation with Rex Ryan, in Baltimore and with the Jets, as favoring a very aggressive, rush-the-passer sort of defense. It turns out that he kind of builds his defense from the back and it's very defensive back oriented. They've been able to produce a lot of sacks through coverage and mixing up their coverages. I haven't seen it yet, but they don't throw a lot of blitzes at quarterbacks. Maybe it's just evolved that way because they've had some injuries up front.

"It seems like when the secondary has a good game, it turns into a great game for the overall defense. The defense has a lot of veteran players and was expected to produce immediately and it didn't happen that way, but lately, it's been coming on strong. They've produced 12 turnover, I think, in the last four games. It's really based on man-to-man coverage, cornerback play, and great leadership from their safeties."

The (4-5) Texans travel to Cleveland on Sunday to take on the (6-3) Browns. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. on CBS KHOU-11 and SportsRadio 610.

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