By Matt Vensel
4:15 PM EST, November 30, 2011
Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis said in a Wednesday conference call with Baltimore media that this has probably been the toughest season, both physically and emotionally, of his four in the NFL.
Hillis earned a spot on the cover of this year’s “Madden” video game after he rumbled for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. But his 2011 campaign has been marred by a hamstring injury and a scrutinized bout with strep throat that some believe was a power play by Team Hillis to leverage for a new contract.
“It’s been a really rough season for me, and all I can do from here on out is just go forward,” Hillis said.
At least on the field, that’s what Hillis does best. With a bulldozing, straight-ahead running style, Hillis gave the Ravens problems in their first meeting with the Browns last season. He ran for 144 yards on 22 carries, but when the teams met again months later, the Ravens held Hillis to 35 rushing yards on 12 attempts.
“We put that behind us. That was the first time we played them last season,” Ravens defensive end Cory Redding said before Wednesday’s practice. “We played them later on in the year, and we stopped him.”
The Browns enter Sunday’s game at Cleveland Browns Stadium with the NFL’s 29th-ranked rush offense, but they totaled 282 rushing yards in their past two games (a win over Jacksonville and a close loss to Cincinnati). Chris Ogbonnaya is Cleveland’s leading rusher in 2011, but Hillis had 19 carries for 65 yards against the Bengals.
“They’ve really beefed that thing up,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said of the Cleveland rushing attack. “They’ve got Peyton Hillis back now, which really does it for them. But in the meantime, two young guys have played really well for them, Hardesty and … I will not pronounce his name because I’ll probably get it wrong.”
Harbaugh, of course, was referring to Ogbonnaya, who was signed from Houston’s practice squad in October.
Hillis, who said he ran the ball “kind of hard” last week for a guy returning from a hamstring injury, is ready for the challenge presented by Baltimore’s defense, which limited San Francisco’s Frank Gore to 39 yards last week.
“Year in and year out, the Ravens prove themselves as a great defense,” Hillis said with his Arkansas drawl. “We know that as a team … we have to approach this game with an aspect of being physical and aggressive, and being ready to go out there and hit them in the mouth because you know they’re going to bring it, too.”
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