Operation Shut Down Peyton Hillis
Florham Park, N.J.- Josh McDaniel has made his fair share of questionable personnel moves since his time as head coach of the Denver Broncos; Trading Jay Cutler immediately (to be fair that trade has worked out for him), ridding the team of their most explosive talent in Brandon Marshall and drafting Tim Tebow after already having aquired Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn.
Yeah Brady Quinn. See it’s not so much that he acquired Quinn (although it seems really pointless now with Orton having played so well, but the team still losing and rumors starting to circulate that it’s Tebow time), but it’s who he so casual threw away to get Quinn that has us talking about the Broncos head coach to start off an article about the Jets and the Browns.
The Browns had drafted Quinn in 2007 and had seen enough during his sporadic playing time to determine he wasn’t a quarterback they could win with, so they shipped him off to Denver this offseason in exchange for a relatively unknown former seventh-round draft pick named Peyton Hillis.
The Browns clearly won that trade by a landslide as Quinn has yet to see any playing time in Denver and Hillis is no longer unknown by anyone who watches football. Even the casual fans who only watch “Sportscenter,” highlights know who Hillis is now, considering he is repeatedly being shown as part of the cycle of standout plays.
And of course anyone who plays fantasy football, even the ones who seemingly never watch a game, but just look at the total points scored for their players, will be the first to tell you about just how dominate Hillis has been this year.
But Hillis’ impact and style can’t be accurately portrayed by stats and numbers alone, there’s a reason he was a seventh-round draft pick and McDaniel shipped him out. Hillis is one of those classic hybrid players that coaches often struggle to figure out how to use properly.
He is 6-1, 240 pounds and looks and plays much more like a fullback than a prototypical running back and in fact Hillis was a fullback in college, where he blocked for two pretty good young running backs you might have heard of named Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas.
So when he was being drafted he was being looked at as a fullback, but people questioned whether he was big and strong enough to handle being an NFL fullback. But scouts loved his speed (4.55 40-yard dash) and his skill-set.
The reason so many of these hybrid type players have failed is because of either an unwillingness or inability to focus on where they can be used best and often times the blame falls on the coaches for not being able to recognize this and adapt as needed.
For this both Hillis and Browns coach Eric Mangini deserve some credit as they realized with his skill-set combined with his size and strength that he could be a tank of a running back and that’s exactly what he has done this year. Racking up 644 yards and seven touchdowns through eight games with an average of 4.8 yards per carry, including two huge games. The first in a loss against the Ravens when he ran for 144 yards (6.6 yards a carry), seven receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown.
His last big game that had his name exploding into the spotlight happened last week, when he steamrolled his way through the Patriots defense leading the way to the Browns dismantling the Pats. Hillis rushed the ball 29 times for 184 yards (6.3 a carry) and two touchdowns as the Browns abused the Pats 34-14.
Jets fans had to love what they saw out of Hillis last week, as he made the Patriots defenders look like tackling dummies all day, but a part of them had to be thinking, ‘wait a minute, don’t we have to play against this guy next week?’
Yes, the Jets do face the tough task of stopping Hillis, in fact they know that the key to them winning this game lies in stopping Hillis. As Hillis goes, so goes the Browns offense, especially considering they are being led by rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. To McCoy’s credit he has played better than anyone could have expected after being thrown into the fire having to play against the Steelers defense in his first start. Although the Browns lost that game, McCoy didn’t lose them the game and he played surprisingly well.
That trend has continued since that game, McCoy isn’t losing games, but he also isn’t winning them. This team is having it’s success because of it’s defense and Hillis, if the Jets can stop Hillis consistently then they should be able to find enough holes in the Browns defense to win this game quite comfortably.
The Jets haven’t had a whole lot of consistency so far this year, but the one area they have been consistent in is stopping the run and boy do they take pride in that. They know Hillis presents a tough challenge, but it’s exactly the type of challenge that these players love to face, especially Bart Scott.
“I got a lot of respect for this guy, I love this guy, this is a man’s man. This is real grown man football right here, this is what I signed up for. Not this zone, run and get angles football, this is like throwback football.” Scott said, “He’s got the neck-roll back there, he’s got the gun-show going. I’m excited, I get to really play football, they brought me here for games like this. Big backs, bruising backs, I’m excited I get to play football this week.”
So if he isn’t the fastest guy, not the quickest and doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a NFL running back how exactly is this guy having so much success?
“It’s called being a football player, you know it doesn’t have to add up traditionally, he’s got the intangibles. He’s determined, I’m sure he’s been told all his career that he couldn’t be a white tailback in the NFL and be successful. I’m sure he has a unique chip on his shoulder, I know I would if people told me that I couldn’t something just because of my race or my color, you know what I mean, I’m excited.” Scott said, “He’s trying to prove a lot of people wrong, he’s a very talented person. I think he’s second on the team in receptions with 30, he’s responsible for a lot of their offense. He’s relentless, he’s going to continue to bring it every game, he’s going to give it everything he’s got. You got to respect a guy like that.”
“He’s really not a fullback, I mean they might be saying he’s a fullback to try and get him pro-bowl votes.” Rex Ryan joked, “But, you know his legs are this (holds hands as far apart as the podium) big, so he’s a huge guy, lower body strength, he’s got good vision, powerful man and he’s a throwback. Just an old-school running back, you know, the old three yards and a cloud of dust, but unfortunately for us he’s getting about five yards and a cloud of dust.”
Jason Taylor has also been very impressed with what he has seen from Hillis this season. Taylor said, “He’s playing very well. Big, strong, powerful back. Likes to run down hill, not too interested in making you miss really. I think he would rather run through you than to try and run around you so, you know, you put the tape on and very quickly you can see the type of player that he is and obviously understand why you need to respect him.”
The Jets know they can’t get off to a slow start and fall behind early this week, that would be playing right into the Browns hands. Sure the Jets have shown the ability to pull off comebacks, but the Browns are built to get an early lead and keep it, they aren’t built for comebacks. So the Jets must focus on shutting down Hillis early and often and forcing the rookie quarterback to have to try and beat them.
Taylor said, “It’s important every week, based on what they like to do offensively you’d like to get it done this week for sure and kind of put that pressure on the quarterback more so than letting them dictate the tempo of the game with the run.”
Ryan has full confidence in his run defense and every week he says he hopes the other team (no matter who it is) tries to run the ball, because Ryan doesn’t envision anyone beating them by running the ball. This week will shall see, because the Browns are a smash-mouth team without the explosive passing weapons the Jets have. So even if the Browns struggle to find running room early, they certainly aren’t going to stop trying.
The mission statement for the defense for this Sunday is real simple and straight-forward, shut down Peyton Hillis, it doesn’t matter how it happens as long as it happens. If the Jets can win this battle, they should be able to win the war in Cleveland.