As the Cleveland Browns get set to take on the Baltimore Ravens this week, one of the top stories will be the fact that running back Peyton Hillis is facing the team he first made an impression against this season.
When Hillis faced the Ravens in Week 3, he certainly took them by surprise with a level of toughness they never could have anticipated. In that game, Hillis ran the ball 22 times for 144 yards and 1 touchdown, a 6.5 yards per carry average. His longest run came on a 48-yard burst, and perhaps his biggest highlight came when he single-handedly drove safety Dawan Landry back several yards before being chased down by several Ravens from behind.
After the game, linebacker Terrell Suggs said he didn't even know who Hillis was before the game. He certainly knew after the game, and so does the rest of the league. While Hillis has remained effective as the season has gone on, teams have started to understand that if they commit extra defenders to him, he can be stopped. And, so far, if you stop Hillis, you pretty much stop the Browns offense.
Some have questioned whether Hillis is wearing down as the season has gone on. He sat out of Wednesday's practice to rest, and was limited on Thursday. Head coach Eric Mangini said that Hillis will practice more on Friday and should be fine for Sunday's game against the Ravens.
Another player who has been banged up is kick returner Joshua Cribbs. He admits that he still feels excruciating pain at times, but will continue to play through it.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are flying high. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are playing very well right now, and with the Ravens defense still having some intimidating players, it'll be tough for the Browns to come away with a post-Christmas victory.