Browns-Patriots: Don's Game Preview

The hopes of the Browns may well lie on the well-rested legs of RB Peyton Hillis. Don looks at the plotlines heading into Sunday's battle in Cleveland.

Peyton Hillis' legs are rested. Yes, that is bad news for the vaunted New England Patriots. Sure, the Patriots have the NFL's best record, and they are loaded with talent. As a result, New England is expected to come into Cleveland on Sunday and leave with an easy win.

Easy is not a word defenders have used in trying to stop Hillis. Sunday he'll be fresh. Did I mention Peyton Hills' legs are rested?

Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy is getting his third consecutive start. McCoy has performed admirably the last two games at Pittsburgh and at New Orleans. So far, the Browns are not asking McCoy to win games, but instead be a game manager. He's done well in that role.

"I've been pleased with (McCoy)," said coach Eric Mangini, at Friday's press conference. "It's a tough environment for anybody.  For a young guy, I've been pleased with his poise, I've been pleased with his approach and I've been pleased with his confidence.  It's not that false bravado that someone has to try to make those around them feel better about the fact that they're playing, it's legitimate.  This is his third shot and I feel good about him going into this game."

As well as McCoy has played, Hillis is the Browns' key offensive weapon. In the weeks leading into the bye week, he was becoming slightly worn down.

Not Sunday. Yeah, those legs … rested.

"I feel really good,' Hillis told OBR's Fred Greetham earlier this week. "I feel like it's about time for another season. (The bye week) has actually been good for my legs and they feel good. The bye week does wonders for you."

Hillis is 17th in the NFL with 460 yards rushing, 18th with 65.7 yards per game and tied for seventh with five touchdowns. His numbers are not eye-opening, but what he can do to opposing defenses cannot be measured in a box score.

Statistically in the Browns two victories, Hillis has a combined 171 yards with two touchdowns on 45 carries. More importantly than yards gained, the Browns heavily relied on Hillis in late-game situations to grind the ball out, take time off the clock and collect first downs thus securing the wins.

New England has not been exactly stout against the run. The Patriots are allowing an average of 101.6 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry.

Making matters more favorable for Cleveland, rookie guard Shawn Lauvao may make his first career start at right guard. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated's Peter King tabbed Alex Mack as his all-pro center, and the strength of the left side with tackle Joe Thomas and guard Eric Steinbach remains. Toss in a healthy and rested Hillis into that mix and two things happen: The Browns are a formidable running team and the onus does not fall on Colt McCoy.

It's a win-win for everybody.

Unfortunately, the Patriots offense will have time with the ball. Quarterback Tom Brady has returned to form as the former Michigan product has thrown for 1,602 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. New England has won five consecutive games.

Everything isn't perfect. Brady has been sacked 12 times this season. Two weeks ago at San Diego,  the Chargers sacked Brady four times and he had his worst game of the season finishing 19-for-32 passing for 159 yards with a touchdown. Still, New England won 23-20.

"There are some snaps where he's playing people and he's got good protection and he's standing about as still as you can get," Mangini said. "It almost looks as though he's reading the paper back in the pocket, just poised and he waits for the guy to get open and just throws him the ball."

And herein lies the Browns' No. 1 issue to this point of the season: defending the pass. Pressure will need to be inflicted upon Brady, like it was two weeks ago in New Orleans. But Mangini knows stopping Brady is not the Browns' only goal.

"There are a lot of weapons in that group and he makes those guys play better and perform better."

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