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After the Browns' 34-14 victory over the Patriots, I don't think there is any doubt that running back Peyton Hillis deserves the game ball again. In all three Cleveland victories, he has been instrumental in closing out the game with punishing runs. More than any other game this season though, his impact was evident against the Patriots. He registered career highs across the board in carries (29), rushing yards (184), and touchdowns (2). He also added 3 catches for 36 yards.
He also helped the efficiency of rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, who completed 73.6% of his passes. Many of those completions came off of playaction. On NBC's Football Night in America on Sunday Night, analyst Tony Dungy showed a play in which linebacker Jared Mayo came up on a playaction. As soon as McCoy set, he was able to fire to Mayo's vacated coverage position, netting an easy 24-yard completion to tight end Ben Watson.
The Browns are a hot football team right now, but it looks more and more like the threat of Hillis must be present. In that case, that places extra emphasis on the most important postion the team is lacking right now: a good backup running back.
Before the bye week, Hillis was a little banged up. He seemed fine after carrying the load against New England, but when the Browns were up by 20, who cringed a little at still seeing Hillis in the game? Eventually, the team did end up giving the last couple of carries to fullback Lawrence Vickers, but it still stood out in my mind: would we be able to do anything without Hillis?
Earlier this year, for whatever reason, Jerome Harrison just didn't work out. He was shipped away, so we can't worry about him anymore. His replacement, Mike Bell, has not been productive any time he has come into the game to give Hillis a breather. That was seen in the first drive of the game against New England -- after two big plays, Bell was given the ball two times in a row. His first carry went for two yards, and his second carry went for one yard. In both instances, there appeared to be plenty of room to run but Bell couldn't capitalize. He finished the game with 6 carries for 7 yards, and ended up leaving with an injury.
The only other running back on the roster is Thomas Clayton, a player with no experience in regular season games. James Davis was waived a couple of weeks ago.
I think the Browns need to invite a couple of free agent running backs in, perhaps even former Brown Chris Jennings, for tryouts to offer a threat when Hillis isn't in the game. Right now, Bell isn't cutting it, and Hillis has proven to be too valuable. If the Browns keep playing as physical as they are, wouldn't it be great to have another back who can split some time with Hillis against lesser teams (i.e. Buffalo and Carolina), so that Hillis will still be near 100% when the Browns play three divisional games to finish off the season? What do you think?