Sunday afternoon the Cleveland Browns escaped with a victory over the Carolina Panthers when Panther kicker John Kasay clipped the left upright with a potential game winning field goal. Carolina rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen's improbable completion to wide receiver Brandon LaFell notwithstanding, the Browns never should have been in the situation to begin with.
Week after week the Browns work diligently to establish running back Peyton Hillis in the first half of football games and inevitably he answers the call and helps the Browns to first half leads over their opponents. Hillis has outstanding numbers with 905 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns for the season. He also leads the team with 46 receptions for 414 yards and two more scores. Hillis runs with power, has nimble feet and exceptional hands.
What he is not, is immune to fatigue as evidenced by his failure to pick up the first down on the fourth and one gamble late Sunday. Anybody watching saw him come off the field prior to the play looking fatigued only to be turned around and sent back in. The running back with the next highest yardage total currently on the roster is Mike Bell with 22 yards. Punter Reggie Hodges has more with his 68 yard ramble. Clearly, the Jerome Harrison trade has been a bust.
In three of Cleveland's losses they had the lead going into the fourth quarter and were unable close out the football game and lost by seven points or less. Hillis has had some nice moments in the second half of some games, especially the Patriots affair, but I truly believe he is being overworked in the first half of most games and this is leaving the Cleveland offense vulnerable when it comes time to chew up the clock and shut the door on opposing teams.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll needs to give Bell some work in the first half of games to help keep Hillis fresh for the second half. Every other premier back in the NFL is spelled at a greater rate than Hillis. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson has Toby Gerhart with 176 Yards and the Texans' Arian Foster who leads the NFL in rushing has Derrick Ward with 216 yards.
Clearly, Daboll has found something special in Hillis, but if he continues to overuse him in the first half of games, Hillis will be less effective at the end when it counts and he also runs the risk of Hillis suffering an injury which would cripple the offense. At this point of the season the Browns are not fighting for a playoff spot, so it also wouldn't be the worst time to find out if Bell is a viable candidate to be in the mix next year as a backup.