Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Ravens-Browns game:
Browns RB Peyton Hillis vs. Baltimore's run defense
The first hint that 2010 could be a special season for Hillis came in Week Three, when he powered his way to 144 yards on 22 carries. Though Cleveland fell 24-17 to Baltimore, Hillis' emergence as a featured back — becoming the identity of the offense, really — was a silver lining.
In that first 2010 meeting with the Ravens, Hillis ran with great power, and he also showed good speed. All told, this was a remarkable performance against one of the league's more powerful defenses.
However, in the rematch against Baltimore, the Ravens evened the score. Hillis, who was limited in practice with a knee injury late in the week, gained just 35 yards on 12 carries.
Injuries have been a far greater concern for Hillis this season. He missed five games with a hamstring ailment before returning to the lineup in Week 12 at Cincinnati. In his return, Hillis rushed for 65 yards on 19 carries and caught two passes for minus-4 yards.
This is a pivotal stretch for Hillis, whose contract is up after the season. He has had, to put it mildly, a disappointing 2011 campaign. A strong finish certainly won't hurt his value entering free agency. He surely hasn't helped himself by gaining just 3.5 yards per carry in his five games.
The 6-2, 250-pound Hillis is known for his bruising running style. At his best, though, his explosiveness is notable. The Browns could use a big game from him. And he needs one, too.