INDIANAPOLIS – As one of the heaviest running backs in the NFL and the ability to bounce off would-be tacklers, Browns running back Peyton Hillis can cause problems for opposing defenses.
The 250-pound Hillis is a converted fullback and is in just his second season as a feature running back in the NFL. In the previous seven occasions he has carried the ball at least 20 times in a game he has averaged below 3.8 yards a carry just once.
After Sunday's 27-attempt day for 94 yards (3.5 per carry), the Colts defense helped make that stat seven for nine times.
Hillis was held in check throughout much of the first half with only 34 yards on 12 carries and before breaking a 24-yard touchdown run with 3:55 remaining in the fourth quarter he was only averaging 2.7 yards per carry.
However, that third-and-six run proved to be the breaking point for the Colts as they fell to the Browns, 27-19, in their home opener.
"I think we did a pretty solid job and we knew they were going to come in and try and pound the ball," safety Antoine Bethea said. "We've got to do it for 60 minutes. That one last run if we could have held them to a field goal right there it would have given the offense a chance to get back on the field and potentially go down the field and tie the game."
Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur made it a point of emphasis to get his running back more carries than the 17 he had in week one, but the Colts neutralized Hillis only allowing one run of more than five yards Sunday.
"We knew we had a great challenge keeping Hillis under control," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "We didn't get it totally the way we wanted to. He gets out on us for a 24-yard gain at the end that kind of skewed things a little bit but up until that point, I think our guys were hanging in their playing tough against the run."
Missing out of the middle of the Colts defense Sunday was their captain Gary Brackett who did not suit up due to a shoulder injury.
The injury bug also bit the defense early in the contest when Fili Moala left the game with an ankle injury, which forced the Colts to play with only three healthy defensive tackles the rest of the way.
Antonio Johnson had three tackles on the afternoon and forced the Colts' lone turnover of the day on a Hillis run. The fumble was recovered by Bethea and brings the turnover total to four for the defense after two games.
"It was a collective team effort, trying to make a play, hustling and being around the ball, just giving great effort," Johnson said of the fumble.
Along with Johnson, backup defensive tackles Eric Foster and Drake Nevis were very active along the front four. Foster finished the game with four tackles and the rookie Nevis led all defensive linemen with six stops.
"Drake is coming on along, he's a good hustle guy and he's a heck of a talent," Johnson said.
Last season Hillis was seventh among all AFC running backs with 1,177 yards rushing, had 11 rushing touchdowns and finished the year with 4.4 yards per rush. The 27 carries for Hillis is two short of a career-high, and he admitted he was feeling the brunt of the hits from the Colts defensive unit.
"I went up and spoke to (Hillis) after the game and he was like, 'You all were really teeing off on me,' and I have never really heard Peyton say that so I think we got some pretty good licks on him and we were pretty efficient against the run," defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. "Obviously, we wish we could have kept the touchdowns away from him but we just need to build on stopping the run."