Usually when you hear the name Peyton dominating the Ravens’ defense, it is usually a Colt with the last name of Manning.
On Sunday instead, it was a Cleveland Brown with the last name of Hillis.
Coming into the Ravens game on Sunday at home against the divisional-rival Cleveland Browns, the Ravens felt like they really needed to focus on Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs in order to contain the Cleveland offense, but it turned out that the real weapon for the Browns was fullback Peyton Hillis, who rushed for 144 yards on just 22 carries and one touchdown.
Hillis’ effort wasn’t enough, as the Browns could not contain quarterback Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin as the pair connected for three scores through the air, but early on in Sunday’s 24-17 Baltimore victory, the Browns continued to gain yards and move the chains on the legs of Hillis.
Hillis got the bulk of the carries with the injury to fellow running back Jerome Harrison, and he excelled. Browns head coach Eric Mangini rode Hillis on their two early scoring drives, as he had 38 total yards on the Browns first drive of the game, when the Browns hit a 38 yard field goal from Phil Dawson to go up 3-0 with 6:14 in the first quarter.
Later, with the Browns trailing 14-3 with 5:51 left in the second quarter, Cleveland continued to pound the rock with Hillis, as he gained 54 yards on their next scoring drive, highlighted by a 25 yard run by Hillis through safety Dawan Landry that nearly led to a big play by the Browns.
Landry stood Hillis up but could not bring down the 6-2, 250 lb back until the rest of the Ravens defense chased down the field and gang-tackled Hillis to the ground.
“Hillis just did a good job finding those holes, and with a big back like that, once he gets that full head of steam going, and it’s hard for anyone to stop him,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said after the game.
Playing the time of possession game, Cleveland took their time driving down to the Ravens’ red zone. They continued to commit to Hillis, who always seemed to gain yards after first contact. Hillis eventually walked into the end zone with 13s seconds left on the clock to make it 14-10 in favor of the Ravens.
Hillis had 73 rushing yards in the first half, and his 1-yard run was the first touchdown allowed by the Ravens defense in almost 10 quarters.
It was a similar situation two season ago when the Ravens went up against Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, a similar big back. Jacobs was poised to be one of the few running backs to rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens, but he left due to injury in the Giants 30-10 victory over Baltimore.
And despite the Browns being down in the second half, they were still committed to getting the ball to Hillis. Backed up in their own 5-yard line, Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace handed the ball off to Hillis. He broke through for a 48 yard gain through the Ravens defense, and with safety Tom Zbikowski tackling him out of bounds, it turned into a 61 yard play for the Browns.
The Browns eventually scored on a yard-pass to tight end Ben Watson as the Ravens defense was sure the Browns were going to pound the ball with Hillis again.
But after Flacco found Boldin for the third time, the Browns were forced to pass in an effort to get back in the game, and Hillis didn’t factor much in the Browns’ offense from that point on.
Cleveland did try a toss to Hillis with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter that went past the Cleveland back down to the Browns’ 3-yard line. Hillis appeared to be putting his arms up to take the snap directly from Wallace as opposed to catching the ball from Wallace.
“We just had to adjust those holes a little bit, and try and shut those holes,” Ngata continued. “He did a great job of hitting those holes, and getting some yards against us.”
The offense putting up 24 points and 3 touchdowns may have taken Cleveland’s axe in Hillis off the Ravens’ throats.
“”It was great that our offense and special teams did a great job today-basically getting that win for us.”
Hillis also had the most receptions for the Browns, catching 7 passes for 36 yards.
Hillis, who was acquired in the off-season from the Broncos in the Brady Quinn trade, has always been a versatile player since coming out of college in 2008 for the University of Arkansas. As a Razorback, Hillis lined up at a variety of positions including running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, and also factored in the return game at times.
Hillis was drafted by the Bronocs in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft by the Broncos, and with numerous injuries to the Broncos running backs in 2008, Hillis-once the Broncos starting fullback-saw time as the lead back for Denver, and actually finished as Denver’s leading rusher with 343 yards and five scores.
Hillis returned to a more traditional fullback role for the Broncos in 2009 and paired with a falling-out with Broncos rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, Hillis was shipped to the Browns along with a conditional draft pick for Quinn.
Now Hillis not only may have snatched the bulk of the carries from starter Jerome Harrison, he also ran himself in the history books as one of few running backs to ever rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens.
But it wasn’t as if the Ravens didn’t think Hillis had this kind of potential.
“Watching him on film, he basically did the same thing against Tampa Bay and Kansas City. We knew he was going to be a hard runner.”
Before last season, the Ravens had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 40 games. In the last two years, they have allowed four 100-yard performances-two to Cedric Benson, Adrian Peterson and Hillis’ 144 yards.
The Ravens have always had problems dealing with the big backs, and they will have to face another potential road block in the Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall next week when the Ravens take on the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Their offensive line did a great job of opening it up in the middle for him,” Ngata added. “He just found those creases and hit them. We just have to have a good week of practice and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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