Every once in a while, things just work out perfectly—even in Cleveland.
That's how the story went this Sunday, when the Browns, led by rookie quarterback Colt McCoy and iron man running back Peyton Hillis, mowed down an overconfident New England team with the kind of play Bill Belichick didn't realize or wouldn't acknowledge they were capable of.
After winning the second of three solid starts he was never expected to make this season, McCoy became the first Browns quarterback since Bernie Kosar to get out on the field, defy the odds and prove that he just knows how to win. That's an amazing feat to be sure.
Even more amazing though? Peyton Hillis, who has been wowing us all season long. If you really stop to think about it, it makes you wonder what Hillis was doing during those two years in Denver before he was traded to the Browns. Was he just getting adjusted and warmed up to the league?
More likely, it just wasn't the right team for him. Enter Cleveland, where the slipper (er, cleat) just seemed to fit.
Hillis, whose tremendous skills might translate on any team at this point in his career, does so exceptionally well in Cleveland because the Browns' style of offense, general approach to the game and even organizational personality are perfectly aligned with what Hillis has to offer.
Following are six slides detailing what makes Hillis and the Browns such a perfect match.
Before we get too analytical, let's acknowledge the obvious: The Browns needed a go-to, workhorse running back for the type of grinding, short-gain offense they were trying to run, and they didn't have one.
Jerome Harrison had three good games at the end of the 2009 season but didn't fool anyone. The Browns didn't need a guy who was just capable of going on a hot streak, and they didn't need a guy who could bust open a big run on occasion between passing gains.
They needed a workhorse. A grinder. A guy who could carry the whole game on his shoulders.
The kind of running back who plays every down. Who picks up a couple of yards on nearly every carry, even in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter when he's exhausted and beat up.
The Browns didn't have a guy who fit that description. When he was initially picked up from Denver, no one even knew for certain if Hillis did.
Turns out he can do a lot more than act as a warm body to fill a job opening. The fact that we got him from Denver (and for Brady Quinn, mwahahaha) just makes it even better. It's like getting just a little teeny bit of revenge for The Drive, 20-some years later.
With a receiving corps expected to be led by Mohamed Massaquoi and rounded out by the consistently disappointing Brian Robiskie, the wild card Chansi Stuckey and Josh Cribbs, who logged the bulk of his previous experience on special teams, the Browns knew before the season started that their passing game wasn't something they could count on to carry the team.
Add to that the fact that Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace weren't viewed as reliable passers and Colt McCoy was at that point believed to be a non-factor for 2010, and you can see why the Browns staff knew from the get-go that this team needed to center its offensive game plan on a ground attack.
Hillis was the perfect guy for such an approach: the kind of back who serves as the primary weapon to move the ball down the field, rather than the kind of back who takes the ball only when a pass-driven offense is in a situation that strategically calls for it.
Unable to count on production from the passing game, the Browns absolutely had to be able to count on production from the running game. This meant a running back who could consistently pound out the yardage needed to move the ball up and down the field all season long, not just a rusher who could occasionally bust out a big run. This meant a running back just like Peyton Hillis.
The Browns have had trouble with clock management on a number of occasions this season. Even though they seem to have improved and will continue to get better in this arena, they still run the type of game that requires an offense that can take time off the clock.
They typically jump out to early leads and then slow down in the second half. For the most part, they aren't a high-scoring team, and they rely on their better-than-it-gets-credit-for defense to hold the opponents' scoring down.
These are all tendencies that require a team to devise an offensive game plan that can take time off the clock, especially in the second half.
This is perfect for a guy like Peyton Hillis—someone who can take the ball and grind out a couple of yards per play over and over for a full 60 minutes of football.
Someone who doesn't go for the glory but knows the strategic value of repeated short gains, and also knows how to get the most out of them by eating the clock by fighting defenders on his way down and picking up a little extra by taking great pains to always fall forward.
Hillis allows the Browns to make continuous forward progress, but to do so slowly and in a calculated manner that eats time off the game clock with an efficiency that is absolutely essential to the strategy employed by their offense.
Faced with playing the bone-crushing defenses typical of fellow AFC North teams several times per year, the Browns needed a running back who can take a beating (or 30 of them) every game and keep on keeping on.
Nobody takes a beating quite like Peyton Hillis.
Hillis is 6'2" and the fastest 250 pounds of solid muscle I've seen in a long time. In other words, he moves awfully quick for something that can also wear you down purely by bulldozing you.
There's a reason running backs have short careers. Nobody can take that kind of physical abuse once a week all football season long for years and not eventually suffer serious physical deterioration at an earlier age than, say, kickers, who can play until they're 45 because the rules of the game absurdly protect them from being so much as bumped into.
We have to acknowledge that Hillis isn't immune to the physical toll his role takes on one's body. It's just that he's a good bit tougher than most.
Hillis' toughness, in both the mental and physical sense, make him the ideal guy to play the role of the gritty, hard-nosed, workhorse running back who just keeps on producing and refuses to stay down, no matter how hard or how many times he's hit in a game, in a season or over the years.
As we all ooh and aah over the incredible feats of the amazing Peyton Hillis, we often forget about his lovely assistant, fullback Lawrence Vickers, who is without a doubt the most underrated and perhaps even the best blocking fullback in the league.
Obviously, I wish to take nothing away from Hillis. However, it's important to acknowledge that part of the reason the Browns' offense is such a good fit for Hillis is because it includes Vickers, whose superior blocking efforts, particularly over the middle, give opportunities to and create holes for Hillis that he might not have had otherwise.
Finally, let's take a look at the intangibles and off-field factors that make Hillis not only a good fit for the Browns, but a good fit for Cleveland as well.
The Browns are a hard-luck team, and Cleveland is a hard-luck town. Clevelanders value those who relentlessly work as hard as they can, then work a little more, and keep their mouth shut about it the whole time.
They value those who never give up even when the odds are bad, they value underdogs and above all, they value loyalty.
In other words, this town was no place for the arrogant and fragile likes of the Braylon Edwards and Brady Quinns of the world.
But it's the perfect place for a guy like Hillis, who is known for his stellar work ethic and effort, who has never been branded or asked to be treated like a "star," and most of all, who has embraced Cleveland with the kind of love and loyalty that wins over Browns fans every time.
If we weren't already sold before then, Peyton Hillis had us forever when he issued his "I love this team and I love this town" quote earlier on in the season.
And you can't beat how happy and appreciative he looks after a win. As someone pointed out to me on Sunday after the game, it's great to see a team look ecstatically happy about winning rather than smug or exuding an "I'm the man" sense of entitled expectation.
That's Cleveland fans for you—just happy to win. Truly happy. Hillis' reaction to the win matching that attitude just proves once again what an exceptionally good fit he is for the Browns and for Cleveland.