Peyton Hillis Primed to Plow Away at Patriots’ Line, Take Pressure Off Colt McCoy

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Peyton Hillis Primed to Plow Away at Patriots' Line, Take Pressure Off Colt McCoy FOXBORO, Mass. — The Browns look like a team on the rise, but while they continue trekking up that mountain, they’ve remained under the radar on a national scale.

That?s why we’ve turned to Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Chris Pokorny over at Dawgs By Nature. The pair discussed seventh overall pick Joe Haden, as well as a couple of former Patriots who are carving their niche in Cleveland.

Here’s what they had to say.

NESN: What have you seen from Joe Haden so far?

Tony Grossi: Good, tough tackler. Still learning to cover NFL wideouts, but is holding up well. On his only interception, he knew what to do with it and returned it over 60 yards. He was recruited to Florida as a quarterback. He looks like a really good player for years to come.

Chris Pokorny: Before the season, cornerbacks Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown were ahead of Haden on the depth chart. Because of that, I haven’t been able to get an extensive look at Haden. He has given up a few big plays, but he seems to have tight coverage. That tight coverage has put him in position to knock away a couple of passes. As an extra bonus, much like second-round safety T.J. Ward, Haden has been a sound tackler. With how much Wright has struggled this year, fans have called for Haden to replace him.

NESN: It’s tough with the injuries, but have you been able to tell which quarterback will give the Browns the best chance to win this season?

T.G.: As Colt McCoy collects playing experience, I really believe it could be him. Jake Delhomme‘s season could be shot. Seneca Wallace can manage a game but won’t win a game for you. McCoy has yet to show that he can do that, either, but he has shown great poise, toughness and intelligence in some really challenging situations.

C.P.: Browns fans have debated this a lot, and each quarterback has their supporters. In terms of this year, I would still go with Jake Delhomme. He has only started one game, but has been ridiculed for making mistakes while his ankle was injured. If Delhomme is healthy, I think he throws the most accurate deep ball on the team, makes the quickest reads, and has better chemistry with the team’s wide receivers. If we’re thinking long-term, though, it’s hard to argue against Colt McCoy. Seneca Wallace did a great job with the offense given his expectations, but still has those moments where you think to yourself, “I see why he’s a backup.”

NESN: What is Eric Mangini‘s approval rating at this point? Do the Browns need to finish with a respectable record for him to retain his job?

T.G.: My gut feeling is he needs to win a lot of games over the second half of the season. I think a 7-9 record might be the absolute minimum he needs to come back. The cultural differences between him and President Mike Holmgren are factoring in. My hunch is that Holmgren believes the team should have a better record than it does, and he’s unsatisfied with the offensive scheme.

C.P.: Because the Browns have been very competitive in all of their games, Mangini’s approval rating is actually pretty high to this point. I haven’t heard fans calling for his head at all. Cleveland still needs to finish with a good enough record — probably at least six or seven wins — for him to keep his job. If the Browns keep playing the way they’ve been playing, that mark is well within reach.

NESN: Why has Peyton Hillis played so well, and was this something you could see coming during his limited reps prior to the outburst?

T.G.: He’s a throwback runner who delivers punishment to tacklers. Plus, he’s decent catching the ball. He’s a blue-collar player who has no fear. I didn’t feel he could hold up over a long season with his running style.

C.P.: I remember how well Hillis performed in his rookie year with Denver, so when the Browns traded Brady Quinn for him, I was intrigued. During the preseason, Hillis was outstanding (he played the way he has in the regular season). It’s not a surprise that he has had an outburst, but it is surprising how quickly Jerome Harrison fell off the radar before being traded. Hillis succeeds because he follows his blocks and always pushes the pile forward an extra yard or two after contact.

NESN: What has Ben Watson attributed to his statistical production?

T.G.: The tight ends are prominent in the Browns’ scheme. He gets open and often is the QB’s first read.

C.P.: There’s one thing you can say about Watson for sure: No matter which of Cleveland’s three quarterbacks are starting, they always target Watson. It shows they have a high level of confidence in him. Most of his catches come on the right side of the field for first downs. He has been a welcome addition to the Browns, especially considering the team’s leading tight end last year was Robert Royal.

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