In every nerd/bully relationship, there reaches a point where the nerd has to make a decision for himself: either the nerd continues to hand over his milk money without a fight, or the nerd finally stands up to the bully and throws a punch.
Now I’m not calling the Cleveland Browns a bunch of nerds, but I am suggesting that the Baltimore Ravens have repeatedly bullied the Browns into handing over their milk money through the years, and I do believe that Sunday’s game in Baltimore was a major milk money moment for the 0-2 Browns under second-year head coach Eric Mangini.
Call me crazy, but I didn’t think a visit to see Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense fresh off a loss would help the Browns offense find their identity or solve their turnover problems. I wasn’t expecting the Browns to necessarily lie down or anything like that, but I did think that Ray Ray and the Ravens would come away with the milk money without too much of a fight.
Anyway, that’s what I was thinking – and then Peyton Hillis showed up and took it to the bully.
Sure, the Ravens still came away with the victory, 24-17, after the Browns blew a late fourth quarter lead, but man did Hillis land some body shots on the Ravens defense and leave an impression as he rumbled for 144 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Consider me a believer after earlier in the week suggesting that Hillis wasn’t a legitimate #1 running back option, even though I liked his verstatility and toughness. You just don’t put up those numbers against Lewis and the Ravens D, so obviously something is there and I was wrong.
In fact, I’ve done such a 180 that I’d venture to say that not only is Hillis a legitimate #1 running back in the NFL, but he might just be the most complete and “ideal” back in the AFC North when you consider his abilties to pick up the blitz and catch the football out of the backfield (7 catches for 36 yards against the Ravens). The truth is, Hillis can do a lot of things very well and his North/South power running style is ideal for the sloppy weather in November and December. Clearly, I was blinded by his whiteness, or maybe I had just given up already on the offense, but regardless, there’s no reason not to make Hillis the focal point of the Browns offense and give him 20+ carries a game until he proves otherwise.
Give credit to the offensive line, too, because they did an excellent job run blocking against the Ravens. Center Alex Mack had a particularly great day in the middle as he time and again moved his man where he wanted him to go and got on some linebackers in the second level.
And, for the most part, I was also pleased with the play of quarterback Seneca Wallace, who seemed to make progress his second time out against a superior Ravens defense.
Wallace appeared to be much more comfortable directing the offense and made much smarter decisions with the football as he connected on 18-24 throws for 141 yards and a 1 yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson. Those numbers aren’t exactly mind boggling, but at least he didn’t turn the ball over or gift wrap another interception like he did for Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers in Week 2.
Wallace also displayed excellent footwork and awareness in the pocket, and made some strong, accurate throws on the move. As long as he continues to get better and not turn the ball over, then he’s probably the Browns’ best option under center even when Jake Delhomme comes back from his ankle injury.
So that was all good to see.
What wasn’t a sight for sore eyes, obviously, was the coverage of cornerback Eric Wright, who got embarrassed by new Ravens wideout Anquan Boldin for three touchdowns. I hate to place the blame on one player, but it’s hard not to do so after this game. I mean, Wright didn’t just hand over his milk money without a fight, he also gave Boldin his book bag and snack pack. He was just downright awful, but in all fairness, I’ve never seen him look that bad, so I’m not ready to throw him under the bus just yet.
Still, in spite of Wright’s terrible day in coverage and the fact that the Browns still walked away with a loss, I’m pleased with what I saw in Baltimore. The bullies ultimately got the milk money, but at least they limped away from the encounter with a black eye and some bruises.
Because of that, I’m weirdly optimistic about this 0-3 start. It sucks that the Browns are winless, but at least they’re going down swinging and appear to be reverting back to the smash-mouth style of offense that fueled last year’s season ending four-game winning streak.
So hang in there, Browns fans, and remember that this is a process, and patience is a virtue.