Peyton Hillis is not fast. Nor is he quick. Nor is he especially shifty.
What he is, is big, and he runs straight ahead.
What he has been mainly this season for the Cleveland Browns is effective. Sunday in the Browns' first win of the season against Cincinnati, Hillis topped 100 yards rushing for the second week in a row. He also became the first Browns back to score a touchdown in four consecutive games since Greg Pruitt did it in 1975.
Hillis has pretty much become the Browns offense. Cleveland did not complete a pass for the final 27 minutes of the game, but it was able to run out the final four minutes of the game because of Hillis (and a phantom defensive holding penalty early in that drive).
The last two games, Hillis has run for 246 yards. He ranks eighth in the league in rushing. Not too shabby for a guy considered a throw-in in the Brady Quinn trade, a guy drafted in the seventh round by Denver.
But Hillis' punishing style fits the approach of Eric Mangini, who loves hard-working, dedicated pros. Hillis is one of those.
Problem is, though, that if the Browns do not develop a passing game then Hillis will be the focus of every defensive game plan. It's safe to say he made it work with that reality the last two weeks, but it's worth wondering how long he can maintain his pace. Hillis could be among the league's more pleasant surprises.
TSX's Report Card vs. Bengals
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
When it mattered most the Browns were able to run the ball effectively. The Browns had lost their first three games because they did not finish the game. They did against Cincinnati. They were able to run off the final 4:11 on the clock, and they did that because of the running of Peyton Hillis, who had gains of 4, 5, 1, 3 and 24 yards. The offensive line's work and Hillis' running enabled the Browns to run out the clock. It's hardest to run the ball when the other team knows you have to run it. The Browns made it work.
PASSING OFFENSE: D
This grade seems low given Seneca Wallace threw for 184 yards and a touchdown, but the Browns did nothing with the passing game in the second half. After completing his first four passes for 30 yards, Wallace did not complete a pass the final 27 minutes of the game. He misfired on his final four throws. It's to the Browns credit that they won a game with those second-half numbers, but no NFL team can win consistently getting so little from the passing game. Somehow coach Eric Mangini's Cleveland teams figure a way to make it work, but at some point it figures to catch up to them.
PASS DEFENSE: F
First Anquan Boldin, then Terrell Owens. The two big, veteran receivers killed the Browns. Owens finished with 222 yards and 10 receptions, taking advantage of both corners. First Sheldon Brown fell down, allowing Owens to catch a 78-yard touchdown. Then Owens abused Eric Wright -- and made him look pretty harmless in the process. Carson Palmer threw for 371 yards, making it hard to figure how the Bengals lost. It's the second miserable week in a row for the Browns secondary. That weakness needs to be shored up.
RUSH DEFENSE: B
Cedric Benson averaged four yards per carry, but carried only 15 times, likely because the Bengals were throwing the ball so well. Benson is a good back who has hurt the Browns, though, so keeping him to 60 yards was a big help in the win. The Browns have no great players or group of players on defense. They need to play well as a unit to win. They weren't sterling against Cincinnati, but they were good enough to win.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
A blocked field goal by Scott Fujita turned out to be the difference in the game. Fujita's block came late in the first half, and on the ensuing possession the Browns drove for a field goal of their own. That six-point swing accounted for the final score. The Browns return game continues to struggle, though, which is disappointing given the Browns have one of the best returners in the league.
Mangini continues to be an enigma, winning just enough to keep the Browns interested in him. Mangini and the Browns struggled in the first three games, then played pretty well in the fourth to beat the Bengals. That being said, Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert both said a team has to be able to pass, and the Browns won without passing effectively in the second half. This does not seem to be an approach to rely on. Mangini has his team playing hard, which is good. But the things it does never leave a feeling of complete satisfaction.