"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, we take a look at the potential return of Hillis to the running back rotation, what that would mean for the offense, the weather conditions for today's game, and more.
One player can change the dynamic of an offense, and if Peyton Hillis is indeed active today against the Bengals, we might finally break our touchdown drought in the first or third quarters. Early this season, one of the things Pat Shurmur really seemed to struggle with was finding a good balance between the pass-run ratio, and when the Browns did run the ball, he had a tough time distributing reps appropriately among the backs. I think the run-pass ratio has been much more adequate as of late, and hopefully Shurmur maintains that same level of playcalling with Hillis and Hardesty back.
One thing to remember is that "success" for Hillis, or our running game in general, shouldn't be measured by how pretty the statistics look. The Bengals have one of the top run defenses in the NFL. Back in Week 1, Hillis still managed to get 57 yards rushing on 17 carries, a 3.4 yards per carry average. He also had 6 catches for 30 yards. The threat of Hillis as a receiver is where the big difference will be made, especially if Shurmur goes with some three- or four-receiver sets and finds a way to get the ball to Jordan Norwood. If Hillis gets two guys watching him out of the backfield, that means there will be less defenders for Norwood or someone else on our roster to evade.
Hillis is excited to play in this game, and he insists that the drama from earlier this season was portrayed as way too dramatic by the media. Here are some quotes from Hillis that appeared in the Plain Dealer:
He described his meeting with the players' captains group "a bunch of hearsay. People are going to believe or think or hear whatever, but me and the guys are fine. We never thought twice. They just wanted me to get healthy and if I can, help us win. It was very professional. There was no bad blood."
Being a bystander on the sidelines was difficult for Hillis. He was often shown almost cringing on the sideline when one of the reserve running backs couldn't take advantage of a big hole.
"It's awful, I mean just to the point of getting treatment and knowing you can't play, standing on the sideline seeing how you lose close games and wondering you could've been out there and you could've helped and stuff like that, so I've been working my best to get out there and I'm excited about the opportunity."
The Ravens picked up a big win over the 49ers on Thursday Night Football, giving them control of the AFC North for the time being. In the "ridiculous hypothetical playoff scenario" for the Browns, that was a tough break for the Browns in the division race. It's still worth considering the thought of getting a wildcard though. Remember, if the Browns beat the Bengals today, they will be one game behind a wildcard spot. There is still something to play for, and I don't sense that this team has given up by any means.
The weather for today's Browns-Bengals game is expected to be rainy and windy. Ball security has been an issue for Hillis in the past when it is wet, and it's tough to say how many times he has carried a football since he's been hurt. There's a chance the rain could be avoided though with it being just overcast with high humidity. Either way, both teams have to deal with the weather conditions, so it shouldn't be an excuse.