With light snowflakes trickling through the air in Berea, the 6-3 Cleveland Browns took the practice field on Thursday, eagerly anticipating Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.
Dozens of televisions are scattered throughout the Browns' facility, many in plain sight for the players. This week on NFL Network and ESPN the Browns' orange helmet has been emblazoned on these TVs.
"You wouldn't know whether we were coming off a loss or a win," coach Mike Pettine said about his teams' attitude this week. "They're alert. They're attentive. To me, it just looks like any other week that we've had, and that's the encouraging thing."
Pettine partly attributed this calm, tranquil feeling his team possesses to the key leaders on the roster. Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner have raised the internal expectations inside the building. Both are used to being in winning programs and don't get caught up in the added distractions that come with it.
On the other side of the ball, the stability Brian Hoyer and Joe Thomas display on offense have not only their fellow offensive players believing, but the entire team. There is no longer a void in leadership positions.
"If you're a leader, you're a leader. Guys see it," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said, reinforcing Pettine's message. "If you're playing well and you're willing to stick your neck out there and call guys out, call yourself out, guys respect that. It's not like [Dansby and Whitner] came in day one and took it over. They earned the respect of the locker room before they were able to lead."
So the task at hand this week isn't just winning: it's defeating the Texans, which it will take an all-hands-on-deck approach to secure a seventh win on the season.
The Browns are on a three-game winning streak and where the team is seeing enhanced success is not hard to pinpoint. The defensive line has banded together to combat what had been a leaky run defense. More noticeably the offensive line looked like a cohesive unit. Setting the tone last week against a well-respected front-seven like Cincinnati has given the boys up front a boost in confidence.
"I think we've done a good job improving every week on the line since we lost Alex [Mack]," Thomas said. "It takes time working with the guys that are next to you."
Weather conditions may also play a factor on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The forecast is calling for a 20 percent chance of snow, which made running back Terrance West's ears perk up. In a snow game during his Towson college days, West rushed for 354 yards and five touchdowns against Eastern Illinois.
West spearheaded the Browns' rushing revival last week in Cincinnati, posting 94 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland carried the football 52 times against the Bengals, an NFL season-high.
"It's an advantage for the offense," said West of the potential sloppy conditions. "Defenders don't want to hit and they can lose traction."
The Browns haven't been shy about praising their loyal fan base and the franchise will need them again on Sunday. Cleveland is 4-1 in front of their home crowd and the raucous members of the Dawg Pound have played a part in the Browns' defensive revival.
In the last three home games against the Steelers, Raiders and Jaguars, Cleveland has allowed only four touchdowns – and two of those game in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, after the Browns had all but secured the victory.
"We're going to lean on the Dawg Pound a lot this week," defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil told the media on Thursday. "This is an offense that relies heavily on pre-snap communication, so we need them to be loud and make that difficult for them."