CLEVELAND – Middle linebacker Ray Lewis backed up his words as the Baltimore Ravens stonewalled rugged Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis.
Unlike earlier this season when he steamrolled the Ravens for a career-high 144 rushing yards, Hillis was the one left bruised and humbled this time.
Hillis suffered a rib injury on a stinging hit from free safety Ed Reed and only managed to rush for 35 yards on 12 carries.
Days before kickoff, Lewis had guaranteed that Hillis wouldn’t duplicate his breakthrough performance even going so far as to say even a blind cat finds a meal once in a while in reference to the former Arkansas star’s dominant game in Baltimore.
“The bottom line is sometimes you got to let people know you’re coming,” said Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. “It ain’t about sneaking up on nobody. It was about me getting my team ready to play and understanding this is a playoff atmosphere for us.”
Eventually, the Browns substituted for an aching Hillis and inserted Mike Bell.
The Ravens have a lot of respect for Hillis, voting for him in the AFC Pro Bowl balloting this week.
However, they had no intentions of allowing him to run roughshod over them twice in one season. Hillis has rushed for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, but averaged only 2.9 yards per carry Sunday.
“We backed up what Ray said we were going to do,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Ray had him dialed in. The first one, he snuck up on us. I didn’t even know his name at first, but he made sure we knew it at the end of the game.
“We can’t take anything away from him, a 1,000-yard rusher is a 1,000-yard rusher. We did vote him for the Pro Bowl. So, I think he’s one heck of a back, but we did our job. We knew we were playing for something bigger than just not letting him get 100 yards.”
The Ravens had a thorough scouting report on the Browns’ tendencies and were playing him for the cutback.
“It’s a couple of keys to their offense and we knew that. They have some tendencies here and there.”
There were few lanes for him to run through.
Hillis’ longest run was seven yards.
The Browns rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries with no touchdowns.
“Our run defense was solid,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We played great gap control. We were flat wall square. We were getting off blocks. I thought our secondary tackled.”
They also did a much better job of tackling Hillis this time.
The Ravens hadn’t forgotten how he left cleat marks all over their defense in September at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It gets kind of personal,” Lewis said. “When it gets personal for a defense, you don’t even want to turn on the film and be the one that’s not running to the ball. We were calling out plays before the snap. Defensively, we did a heck of a job.
“I told him, ‘Look, I love the way you play the game.’ As long as I’m here, I’m not going to let somebody run the ball and beat us. That’s why I was letting everyone know it wasn’t going to happen again. It wasn’t about trash talking. It was about just saying what I felt in my heart had to happen.”
During the first meeting, Hillis broke long runs of 50 and 28 yards.
This time, the Ravens never let him get into the secondary.
And the defensive backs operated as extra force players and tackled Hillis by wrapping up his legs, including undersized cornerback Chris Carr.
“He’s a big guy and he runs extremely hard, but we did an excellent job on him,” Carr said. “The first game he was coming up on our DBs and he was running. He didn’t really get to the second level too often. They have a good offensive line and a good running game, but we made them one-dimensional this game.”
The Ravens were extra determined to live up to Lewis’ message of drawling a line in the dirt and not allowing Hillis to cross it.
Whenever Hillis had any breathing room, the Ravens closed it down quickly with relentless pursuit and gang tackling.
“Peyton Hillis is a great running back,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “We wanted to make sure we got some hats on him. I think we did a good job of corralling him and tackling him when we got the chance.
“I think the difference is we knew what he was about. We saw him on film and we wanted to make sure he didn’t do it again. It means a lot coming from our leader, Ray. A lot of us wanted to make sure he was right. We wanted to back him up.”