If there's anything we've learned about the Cleveland Browns now eight weeks into the 2011 NFL season, it's that they still have a ways to go before they can count themselves as week-to-week winners in the Pat Shurmur Era.
And that they'll need Peyton Hillis back and running if they're to get there sooner rather than later.
Hillis missed Sunday's 20-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, his second in a row on account of a sore hamstring. This, after sitting out games in September with strep throat, a move for which his motives were questioned and for which he drew criticism from around the league.
Controversy aside, the Browns need Hillis back on the field as soon as possible to help carry the load and take some of the pressure of the shoulders of second-year quarterback Colt McCoy.
Cleveland managed only 66 yards on 23 carries without him against the Niners. Montario Hardesty, Hillis' backup, had been expected to boost the Browns' backfield after rushing for 95 yards on 33 carries against the Seahawks last week, but left Sunday's game with a calf injury after racking up six yards on two carries.
That left McCoy and Chris Ogbonnaya as Cleveland's main rushers—not exactly a one-two punch that's going to win many games.
If the Browns are going to finish with a winning record, much less a playoff berth in the AFC, they'll need Hillis and Hardesty healthy and available to play. McCoy has proven to be a competent, game-managing quarterback, but hardly the type of player who's going to make big plays and do whatever it takes to lead his team to a win.
Not that he doesn't want to, of course, but rather that he's still limited in what he can do and, perhaps just as importantly, what he knows how to do in the NFL. He'll need all the help he can get over the second half of the season to make Pat Shurmur's inaugural campaign a successful one.
No easy task, since Cleveland will play the Baltimore and Pittsburgh four times in the final five weeks, though judging by the way the Ravens have played of late, there may be a win or two to steal among those games.
But before the Browns can even think about winning any of those games, or any other games before then, they need to first get Hillis' hammy and Hardesty's calf back into playing shape. Then, and only then, will the Dog Pound have reason to cheer.