BEREA, Ohio—As the Browns prepare to finish the 2010 season, it only seems appropriate that the team's Most Valuable Player is banged up as the team limps to another double-digit loss season.
Peyton Hillis, who was a unanimous selection as the Browns' Player of the Year, in essence, the team Most Valuable Player by the local chapter of the Professional Football Writers Association (PFWA).
Hillis suffered a rib injury early last week when he was hit by the Ravens' Ed Reed. He returned to the game, but had just 35 yards on 12 carries. Hillis sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday, but Eric Mangini said he still expects Hillis to play against the Steelers.
Mangini said the injury wasn't due to him being worn down.
"During the course of the season everybody gets tired and everybody gets dinged up," Mangini said. "Really, the injury that he had wasn't a function of fatigue. I don't think that anything to do with him being worn down.
"He's going to get hit quite a bit," Mangini said. "He's in tremendous shape, he takes care of his body really well and he relishes this role, but during the course of the season there is going to be wear and tear on all of the guys. I think they all feel it."
Hillis leads the Browns with 1,164 yards on 264 carries for a 4.4 avg., including 11 touchdowns, which is currently good enough for sixth place in the AFC.
He also has a chance to lead the team in receptions, as he's just one behind Ben Watson. Hillis has 60 receptions for 474 yards, including two receiving touchdowns. He is tied for 18th in the AFC in receptions.
"With Peyton, he's had an outstanding season in so many different ways with running the ball," Mangini said. "Catching the ball, the threat that he's added to the offense, the amount of touchdowns and all of that, and also the guy.
"You guys have talked to him enough times, you know what kind of person he is," he said. "He's going to be a productive player here for a long time with a chance to be really an outstanding player. He's also going to be a tremendous part of the community whether it is with charity work, he's just what you look for. I'm really happy that he's here."
Hillis is looking like one of the biggest steals in team history as the Browns dealt Brady Quinn for Hillis and two draft choices.
The Browns passing attack in 2010 has been, at best suspect, putting all the more focus and attention on stopping Hillis.
"The more you can be productive in the passing game and the more threats that you have, the bigger opportunities there are in the running game," Mangini said. "One builds off the other."
"Now, when you can attack all of those different areas and you're balanced, and you have the ability to be balanced, that forces them to be balanced and they have to choose each play, ‘What do we want to take away?'
Rubin Leads: With just one game left, DL Ahtyba Rubin leads the NFL among defensive linemen in tackles. For a nose tackle, it's significant as many players in the 3-4 scheme at the position, end up just plugging gaps.
Mangini said a lot of it is due to his hustle.
"It's meaningful," Mangini said. "To me, the level of improvement is impressive. His effort is very good. He shows up on the screen on almost every play. For a big man, his effort is outstanding. It's not by accident that he leads the NFL in tackles for defensive linemen."
Rubin has 79 tackles, including two sacks, two passes broken up and an interception. He's third on the team, just two tackles behind Matt Roth with one game to play.
The Browns rush defense face Rashard Mendenhall and the Steelers ground attack this week that rank fifth overall, in the NFL. Mendenhall has more yards than Peyton Hillis (1,237) and just as many touchdowns (11).
"He needs to do really well this week for us to stop their running game," Mangini said.
The Talk: Mangini was asked hypothetically, if he would be open to changing to the West Coast offense if asked to by Mike Holmgren.
"I figure I'll have any conversations after the season and those things will take of themselves," Mangini said. "Right now, it's Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh."
RB Peyton Hillis (ribs) and OL Floyd Womack (knee) were still held out.
"I do still feel good about (Hillis) playing (Sunday)," Mangini said.
Rookie OL Shawn Lauvao will take reps for Womack at right guard.
Steeler Week: In this transitory age of the NFL, players come and go, but Mangini said the players pick up the rivalry quickly.
"It's everywhere," he said. "(The players) live here and you hear talk all around when you're out, stuff like ‘I hate the Steelers.' "