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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “Peyton Hillis”

Phase One Continues for the Browns

The Cleveland Browns continued to get their roster in order prior to the start of free agency as they placed the franchise tag on kicker Phil Dawson on Friday.

Now that the Browns have taken care of Dawson and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, that just leaves the Peyton Hillis situation.

For the rest of the story, head over to The Cleveland Fan.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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International Man of Mystery

Over the years we have seen more than our fair share of strange moments in Cleveland sports.

From Ten Cent Beer Night, to an Indians player breaking into the umpire’s room to retrieve a teammate’s confiscated bat to Bottlegate, to Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss, there has been no shortage of interesting times.

But even by Cleveland’s standards, we weren’t really prepared for Thursday’s news about Peyton Hillis.

A day after Hillis split with Kennard McGuire, his third agent change in the past year, ESPN’s Adam Schefter cited unnamed sources in reporting that Hillis told Browns coaches at the end of last season that he was thinking of retiring and possibly joining the CIA.

Read more…

Still don’t believe in curses, Cleveland?

Another day, another controversy in the ongoing saga of Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis’ 2011 season with the Cleveland Browns.

Hillis left Friday’s practice after aggravating his injured left hamstring. According to media reports, Hillis took a handoff, ran off right guard, stood straight up and started limping off the field. He then threw the ball and his helmet in frustration.

He walked off the practice field with a trainer.

It’s been one thing after another for Hillis this season, which has been the exact opposite of last season. At this time last year, the Browns and Hillis were getting ready to face the Patriots, a game where Hillis ran for a career-high 184 yards and two TDs in a Browns win.

Now? He’s expected to be out at least a couple of weeks after an MRI this afternoon revealed that he significantly aggravated the muscle.

Not only is Hillis injured, but he’s losing the support of the one group that he needs the most – his teammates.

According to a report at Yahoo Sports, on Wednesday a group of about eight Browns veterans called Hillis into a meeting room for an intervention-style, air-clearing session designed to restore his focus. Supposedly the 25-year-old back’s consuming desire for a new contract has become a locker room distraction and several teammates believe it is holding the team back.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says one Browns veteran. “Last year, Peyton was such a positive, inspirational force on our team – but now he’s like a different guy. It’s like he’s in a funk that he can’t get out of, and it’s killing us, because we really need him. And we’ve told him that. But we’re at the point where we just don’t know what to do.”

We tried to warn you Cleveland.

“The fact that everyone has to get asked about (Hillis’ situation) by the local beat writers every day, it’s started to create a distraction, and it’s a shame that it has to be that way,” said linebacker Scott Fujita. “I’m never gonna be in a position to question a player’s toughness. I just want him to be healthy and in the right frame of mind to help the team. More than anything else, that’s what our conversation with him was about.”

We really did warn you.

“A few guys tried to talk to him, to make him understand the best way to go about things is to put your head down and do the best you possibly can,” tackle Joe Thomas said. “Because if the Browns aren’t going to pay you, some team will break the bank – and either way you need to play hard.”

Oh boy.

Granted, this isn’t good news, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a silver lining or two here.

It’s good to see the veterans on the team taking ownership of the situation and trying to talk to Hillis. That’s a positive sign and shows that team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have filled the locker room with the right kind of players.

Plus, not to excuse Hillis if he really is pouting, but he’s only 25 and there is a good chance that his actions are at least partially to blame on immaturity.

If he can get healthy and get his head on straight, there shouldn’t be any reason that the Browns can’t count on him.

If not, well there’s a reason why the Browns have two No. 1 picks next season.

This is what we’re worried about?

So it turns out that Peyton Hillis’ agent told Hillis to sit out the Miami game after Hillis came down with a case of strep throat.

“I would give him the same advice to him or any of my clients as if he were my son,” Kennard McGuire told The Associated Press. “The game is physical enough, and the way Peyton plays the game, he needs all the elements of his physical game. Him being sick, and the level of his sickness, is the equivalent of being injured.

“Not only could he have hurt himself but he could have hurt his team. Nobody embodies Cleveland like Peyton Hillis. If anyone wants to point a finger, point it at me.”

And this has become some kind of referendum on Hillis’ toughness as a player.

The thing we don’t get is: why? Why is this an issue?

We love living in Cleveland and rooting for the local teams. But this is one of those things that gets on our tits.

Nothing can ever be as simple as someone was too sick to go to work. There has to be some hidden agenda.

Of course McGuire wants to avoid Hillis getting injured – he’s the meal ticket. McGuire doesn’t get paid until Hillis gets paid and the bigger the contract the bigger McGuire’s piece will be.

That’s why, when a player switches agents, the new guy always wants to renegotiate the player’s contract – the agent doesn’t get paid under the old deal, he only gets his money under new contract.

We thought everyone around here understood that after the whole Manny Ramirez to Boston fiasco – agents will steer their clients to the highest bidder every time. Doesn’t matter if it’s not a good fit, just give me the greenbacks.

Was it disappointing that Hillis – the one player that opposing defenses have to worry about – didn’t play against Miami? Of course.

Was it the end of the world? Of course not.

In fact, one good thing came out of the Miami game (well two, counting that the Browns won) – the team found out that, if he can stay healthy, Montario Hardesty has a chance to be a contributing member of this offense.

Hillis and Hardesty give the Browns a solid starting and back-up option at running back, something the team hasn’t had since … Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner maybe?

But apparently we can’t focus on that; we have to go looking in dark corners for the bogeyman.

Heaven help Alex Mack – who’s out of the hospital after having his appendix removed. Coach Pat Shurmur said on Tuesday that it was too early to know if Mack will play or not against Oakland on Oct. 16.

After the Hillis brouhaha, there’s no telling what kind of nonsense we will be in for in Mack doesn’t suit up for the Raiders.

Browns being cautious with Hillis contract

When it comes to extending the contract of third-year running back Peyton Hillis, the Browns are approaching it like a fine BBQ chef.

Low and slow.

Browns general manager Tom Heckert said on Thursday that, “Until we get a contract done with somebody, we’re not gonna talk about it.

Read more…

Oh boy, now we’ve done it

Well, we did it Cleveland – Peyton Hillis is the new cover boy for this year’s Madden NFL game.

Oh crap.

Hillis picked up 66 percent of the vote in the final of the 32-player tournament to easily beat Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick.

We tried to warn people – the Madden Curse is real. And now it’s going to roll through Cleveland like Godzilla through Tokyo.

And now Hillis is infected with something worse than the cheese touch.

The Browns better hope Montario Hardesty’s knee is OK and we have no doubt general manager Tom Heckert is hastily reordering his draft board now that the news is out.

Of course, there are some heretics out there who think this is OK. Check them out at your own risk here, and here.

***

The Browns are reportedly (emphasis on the reportedly part) in discussions with Minnesota to trade for the Vikings’ first-round pick (No. 12) in tomorrow night’s NFL Draft.

According to National Football Authority, the Browns are targeting two players and, if they land one of them with their own pick at No. 6, they will be interested in trading with Minnesota if unnamed player No. 2 is available when the Vikings go on the clock.

While that sounds good on paper, the cost of the reported deal is steep: the Browns would give up their second-round pick this year (No. 37) and their No. 1 pick next year.

Now, the Browns clearly need all the help they can get. But is adding a second player at the cost of next year’s No. 1 pick – which could be quite high again as the team is working with a new coaching staff installing a new system – a price worth paying?

We don’t think so. If the team was ready to win now and that one extra player would help put them over the top, we could probably get behind the deal.

But as the team is currently constructed, we’ll take a pass. And we expect the Browns to do the same if the Vikings actually do come calling. (h/t to Cleveland Frowns)

***

Congratulations to Clint Dempsey, who scored twice in Fulham’s 3-0 win over Bolton on Wednesday.

Dempsey is now the Cottagers’ top scorer in the Premier League era with 33 goals. He’s also just one of two U.S. players to score in multiple World Cups, scoring against Ghana in 2006 and England last summer.

You can see video of his two goals here.

***

More good news out of Kent State, as the women’s golf team will play in the 2011 NCAA Women’s Golf Tournament from May 5-7.

The Golden Flashes, winner of their 13th consecutive Mid-American Conference team title, will be one of 24 teams to participate in the Central Regional at Warren Golf Course where the Flashes placed second in October at the Notre Dame Invitational.

Kent State is the 11th seed in a regional where UCLA, Duke, LSU and Arkansas are the top four seeds. The top eight advance to the NCAA Championship at Traditions Golf Course in Texas from May 18-21.

Waiting … and waiting … and waiting

We’re used to waiting here in Cleveland – we’ve been waiting our entire lives for a Cleveland team to win something.

But we have nothing on the fans of Stoke City.

The Premier League team earned a spot in the finals of the FA Cup over the weekend for the first time in franchise history – and that history dates to 1863.

The Potters are the oldest club in the Premier League and, despite periods of on-field success, have never lifted the FA Cup trophy.

“For 147 years, we have waited,” team chairman Peter Coates told the Stoke-on-Trent Sentinel.

“For me, this was without doubt the biggest win in the football club’s history because it puts us in the final of the biggest cup competition in the world,” Coates said on the team’s website. “To be honest, it really doesn’t get any better than this and going to the final is very exciting for us all.

Forget a lifetime of “waiting for next year,” how about generation after generation after generation after generation of waiting?

Kind of makes 1964 seem not that long ago.

The FA Cup was first held in 1871. The knockout tournament is open to all football clubs from the top flight all the way down to amateur teams – think if Major League Baseball held a tournament with every team down through the independent leagues – and drew more than 750 entrants this year.

The tournament is so much a part of English culture that it has been nominated as a cultural icon, along with Stonehenge, a cup of tea and the double-decker bus.

“The FA Cup has a unique place in English sporting culture and a magic all of its own,” said Brian Barwick, FA chief executive. “It has consistently generated some of the great stories and moments in sport and we are delighted that it has been recognised in this way.”

***

We know that Browns running back Peyton Hillis has made it to the finals of an online tournament to be the next cover athlete for the Madden NFL 12 video game.

We’ve also read and heard how EA Sports will never allow someone with a low profile like Hillis to be on the cover of the company’s flagship game.

But would Hillis really have a negative impact on game sales? Not according to this article from Sports Biz.

“What drives gamers to a particular title is that game’s review scores, gameplay and feedback from peers,” said David Riley of the NPD Group in the article. “While cover art can certainly enhance appeal and awareness, it’s hard to fathom that a gamer would drop $60 based solely on what appears on the cover.”

Riley said there is no hard research on an cover athlete’s ability to better sell a game.

“Great covers help practically sell everything, but can a cover alone sell a video game?” Riley asks. “Sure, some gaming consumers who stumble upon the latest title will be compelled to look the game over based on the cover, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to drive them to purchase it.”

The Madden cover spot this year is reportedly worth around $125,000, even though it does include some work—about a week full of commitments.

So while the Madden curse lurks for the winner of the tournament, it apparently doesn’t translate to game sales.

***

The NFL released the 2011 schedule and the Browns have an interesting year ahead of them.

Once again they will see familiar faces in news places as they take on Kamerion Wimbley (probably) and Oakland, Derek Anderson (maybe) and Arizona, former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Miami, former special teams coach Brad Seely and San Francisco, Mike Holmgren’s former team in Seattle and Pat Shurmur’s old team, St. Louis.

After opening the season at home against Cincinnati, the Browns won’t play another division game until Nov. 27, when they see the Bengals again. They face Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice each over the last five weeks of the season.

Should be interesting.

Sorry, but we just can’t do it

Browns running back Peyton Hillis has somehow made it to the finals of an ESPN contest to see who will be on the cover of the Madden NFL 12 video game.

ESPN.com’s SportsNation announced Monday that Hillis earned 61 percent of votes cast to “upset” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Hillis now will face Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick in the finals.

Hillis’ campaign has grown with get out and vote calls from many.

But not from us.

We know it’s just superstition, just a coincidence, there’s no basis in logic or fact, but … the Madden Curse is real. Don’t be swayed by so-called “logic.”

The Browns and Cleveland sports have enough problems without going out and looking for trouble. Why not just start selling Hillis voodoo dolls in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati? Or have a gypsy come to the locker room and give him the evil eye?

With the way things work around here, if Hillis makes the cover he probably won’t even make it to training camp before being stricken by some fluke injury or strange, never-before-seen ailment.

This is Cleveland, after all.

And we’re going to sit this one out.

***

Another reason to like Cleveland is the upcoming opening of the Sports Research Center, which is scheduled to open April 25 in the Cleveland Public Library.

According to The Plain Dealer, the center, the only one of its kind in Northeast Ohio, will showcase the best of Cleveland sports history with more than 25,000 books and magazines and research materials, including old photos, scrapbooks, movies and movie clips.

“We will have more baseball-related material than any other building in the country” except the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Tena Wilson, a library administrator, told The PD. “We’ll be revealing a lot of hidden treasures.”

“Sports are a part of Cleveland DNA,” Felton Thomas, Cleveland Public Library director, said in the article. “Clevelanders either love or hate the changing weather seasons, but they always embrace the start of a new sports season. And this [center] gives fans a chance to travel back into Cleveland sports history to reminisce about a favorite player or game or discover something new about their beloved sports teams and heroes.”

Grading the Browns Running Backs

We’re back with a look at the Browns running backs this year. This should go much smoother than the quarterback analysis.

Peyton Hillis was a huge surprise this year, especially when you realize the Browns got him from Denver for nothing more than Brady Quinn.

Hillis was 11th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,177), 18th in yards per attempt (4.4), tied for 6th with 11 rushing touchdowns and 15th in yards per game (73.6).

More importantly, he accounted for 71.5 percent of the Browns rushing yards and 84.6 percent of the team’s rushing touchdowns. If you factor in his 61 receptions for 477 yards and another two touchdowns, he was responsible for 34 percent of the team’s total offense and 50 percent of the offensive touchdowns.

Hillis slowed down as the season wore on as injuries – and the fact the Browns had no other viable option in the running game – took its toll on him. With some expected support next year, Hillis’ production should go up.

The only drawback was his fumbling, as Hillis had a league-high of eight.

Add it all up and we’re comfortable giving Hillis an A for the season.

Helping Hillis with achieve his big year was fullback Lawrence Vickers, who should be starting in the Pro Bowl.

Vickers cleared the way for Hillis this year – look at this lead block on a Hillis touchdown run against New England – and for his efforts he also gets an A.

After Hillis and Vickers things really fall off the cliff. When you consider quarterback Colt McCoy was the team’s second-leading rusher and punter Reggie Hodges was fifth, then you know things were bad.

Jerome Harrison showed his season-ending burst from last year was a mirage and he was subsequently shipped out to Philly, where he gained 208 yards in two games and 31 total yards in the other six games he played for the Eagles.

Mike Bell, who came over in the Harrison trade, was just as bad, totaling only 71 yards for the Browns. Josh Cribbs struggled all year to get anything going in the rushing game and rookie Montario Hardesty missed the season with an injury.

So, collectively, we have to give that group an F for the season.

The good news is there is reason to hope next season. Hillis should be just as productive, especially as he will have back-up, either from Hardesty or another running back the Browns draft or bring onto the roster.

Vickers is a free agent, but Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert have to understand his value and he should be back for another year.

And if/when the Browns fix the right side of the offensive line, the team should be able to pound the ball the way they will need to when the weather turns cold in the second half of the season.

***

The Browns are scheduled to interview Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey Saturday in Atlanta and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell next week in Cleveland, according to The Plain Dealer.

***

Should we be concerned or happy that the Browns are not considering defensive coordinator Rob Ryan as a head coach candidate, even though other teams are?

***

Joe Haden is a finalist for Rookie of the Year.

Browns vs. Ravens – Week 16

After three weeks on the road – and coming off back-to-back losses that have sucked some of the positive energy out of an otherwise encouraging season – the Browns finally have come back to Cleveland.

The Browns close out the 2010 season with consecutive home games, starting today against Baltimore.

The Opposition

Baltimore: 10-4
Offensive rank: 19th overall/16th passing/16th rushing
Defensive rank: 10th overall/14th passing/5th rushing
All-time record: Browns trail 7-16, with a 3-9 mark at home. The Browns have lost three of the last four at home against Baltimore.
The line: Browns +4

What to Watch For

How the Browns defense handles the Ravens passing game. In the first meeting Anquan Bolden torched the secondary, pulling in eight catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns. This match-up will be a good opportunity to see the progress rookies Joe Haden and T.J. Ward have made in the passing game.

While the Baltimore defense gets all the national hype, if you look closer at some key numbers the Browns aren’t that much behind the Ravens:

  • The teams are tied for 14th against the pass
  • The Ravens are giving up 4.0 yards per rush; the Browns 4.1
  • The Ravens have given up 20 touchdown passes; the Browns 21
  • The Ravens are giving up 18 points per game; the Browns 19
  • The teams are tied, with Pittsburgh, for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed, with five.

So while the new penny shine has reportedly come off defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, he still has the defense playing pretty well.

But that last stat shows just how hard it is going to be for the Browns to compete as they are in a division with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They don’t get the cupcakes in the AFC West and NFC West every year.

Offensively, we know what the Browns are going to try and do: run the ball with Peyton Hillis and let Colt McCoy make a few plays to keep drives going and hope for the best.

After ripping the Ravens for 144 yards in the first meeting, Hillis will be a marked man today. And we have to wonder just how much he has left after 14 games, considering he has accounted for:

  • 68 percent of the Browns rushing attempts
  • 75 percent of the Browns rushing yards
  • 22 percent of the Browns receptions
  • 17 percent of the Browns receiving yards
  • 37 percent of the Browns total offensive output

If you look at his last four games, Hillis may be ready for a solid day today. He’s been up-and-down the last few weeks, alternating good games (131 vs. Carolina, 108 vs. Buffalo) with weaker games (57 vs. Miami, 59 vs. Cincinnati) so if that trend continues he should break the 100-yard mark today. Which would certainly help the Browns efforts to pull out a win.

The Browns will have little chance if they can’t get their problems on third down fixed. Over the past three games the offense is only 6-of-32 on third down, a shockingly bad 18 percent conversion rate. Clearly that’s not going to get it done today against Baltimore.

The Best Browns vs. Ravens Game I’ve Seen

Nothing really stands out from the 11 times the Browns have played the Ravens at home. Forced to choose, we’ll go with the season-opening win in 2004. It was the first time the Browns won a season-opening game since returning in 1999 and was probably the high point of Jeff Garcia’s time as quarterback. The PD‘s game story is here.

The Prediction

It’s hard to see a way for the Browns to win this week.

We’re not buying into the national story that the team is playing for coach Eric Mangini’s job. As frustrating as the past two weeks have been, it doesn’t outweigh all the good that has gone on this season.

Baltimore is a better team and has more to play for today. But we don’t expect the Browns to just roll over; this team isn’t built or coached that way.

So we’re expecting more of the same, a tough, close game, but one where the Ravens grind out a close win, covering the spread in the meantime.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 2-11-1.

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