The status of Hillis and his ailing hamstring is still up in the air for this Sunday's meeting with the Seattle Seahawks, who hope the recent bye week was enough to get their starting quarterback onto the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Hillis burst onto the Cleveland scene a year ago and rushed for over 1,000 yards while finding the end zone a total of 13 times. He became an instant star on an offense that needed one.
His follow-up campaign has been less of a fairy tale and more of a nightmare, however. The pending free agent hasn't made headway with getting a new contract and caught slack for sitting out a Sept. 25 game with strep throat, a move some thought was in response to the lack of a new deal.
The 25-year-old has only had 16 carries in two games since, including six for 14 yards in last Sunday's 24-17 loss at Oakland. The Browns eventually announced during the game that Hillis suffered a hamstring injury and was not benched.
The chain of events were addressed by head coach Pat Shurmur on Monday.
"You can be assured he had a hamstring injury. That you can be assured of," the coach said.
"I think he was willing to come back in and I think he was injured. At that point you don't want to put a guy out there that doesn't have all his facilities."
Shurmur also said that he doesn't know how long Hillis' latest ailment will sideline him.
"Those injuries can take a couple of days or they can take however long," Shurmur said. "But it's a hamstring injury."
Without Hillis, the Browns scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard field goal by Phil Dawson and a 12-yard touchdown pass by Colt McCoy to Mohamed Massaquoi. Cleveland then recovered an onside kick with just over a minute left, but couldn't find the end zone.
"We didn't match [the Raiders'] momentum early in the game. It's pretty disappointing," McCoy said. "As a competitor, it's hard to look at the positives in a loss. Offensively we didn't play [well]."
Cleveland lost its second straight game sandwiched around a bye week, but a victory on Sunday would still give the club its best start since going 3-3 in 2007.
The Seahawks are also 2-3 and are two weeks removed from a big 36-25 victory over the New York Giants, their second win in three games since starting the season with consecutive losses.
Charlie Whitehurst, stepping in for an injured Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin with 2:37 to play to put Seattle in front, and cornerback Brandon Browner later iced the game with a 94- yard interception return.
Jackson was forced out of the contest in the third quarter with a bruised right shoulder, but Whitehurst was able to step in and throw for 146 yards on 10- of-18 passing without a pick.
"Well, there are 32 guys who are in that situation, so you go in and do the best you can," Whitehurst said about coming off of the bench. "Luckily, we came out of here with a win and it will be a fun flight back."
The bye week came at a good spot for the Seahawks, giving Jackson some extra time to heal. Head coach Pete Carroll said that the club will still prepare this week as if Whitehurst is going to start, even though Jackson returned to the field on a limited basis this week.
"He was able to throw the ball, so we're just taking it one day at a time and see how he tolerates," Carroll said of Jackson on Monday. "He was running out here a little bit. He's way ahead of any schedule that anybody would have thought of at this point."
Of course, it wouldn't be a Pete Carroll team if the roster didn't see some overhaul over the break. Cornerback Marcus Trufant -- the longest tenured Seattle player -- was placed on injured reserve due to a back problem that caused him to miss the Giants game.
Also, Carroll decided to part ways with No. 4 overall pick of the 2009 draft, linebacker Aaron Curry. He traded the former Butkus Award winner to the Raiders for a pair of draft picks.
Seattle owns an 11-5 advantage in its overall regular-season series with Cleveland but suffered a 33-30 road overtime loss to the Browns in the most recent encounter between the teams, which took place in 2007. Current Browns president Mike Holmgren was the Seahawks' head coach for that contest, and also served in that capacity for Seattle's 34-7 rout of Cleveland at CenturyLink Field in 2003. The Seahawks last downed the Browns in Cleveland by virtue of a 9-6 decision on Sept. 9, 2001, with Holmgren also manning the sidelines for that game.
Carroll is 1-1 lifetime against Cleveland, with the win coming while then in charge of the New England Patriots in 1999 and the loss coming as the leader of the New York Jets in 1994. Shurmur will be opposing both Seattle and Carroll for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Whoever lines up under center for the Seahawks this weekend could see some returning faces to the offensive line. Left guard Robert Gallery was scheduled to return to practice this week in the hopes of being able to play for the first time in four games because of a groin injury. Center Max Unger has started all five games, but is battling a foot injury that has him questionable. Tight end Zach Miller (8 receptions) is also questionable with a concussion. Jackson (1012 passing yards, 6 TD, 5 INT) completed 15-of-22 pass attempts with an interception before his exit against the Giants. He totaled 166 yards and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu (17 receptions, 2 TD) to open the game's scoring. He was also sacked four times, however. Baldwin (20 receptions, 2 TD) led the team with eight catches for 136 yards in the win and Obomanu ended with six receptions for 51 yards. Top wide receiver Sidney Rice (15 receptions, 1 TD) was limited to four catches for 38 yards, while fellow wideout Mike Williams (8 receptions, 1 TD) did not play due to a concussion. Seattle's 28th-ranked run game (83.0 YPG) posted 145 yards on the ground versus the Giants, with Marshawn Lynch (239 rushing yards, 2 TD) recording 98 yards on 12 carries with a score.
Seattle's offensive line figures to face a challenge this weekend against a Browns club that has notched 13 sacks this season and ranks fourth overall versus the pass with 192.0 yards allowed per game. A pair of veterans have been leading the charge in linebacker and top tackler D'Qwell Jackson (49 tackles) and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (21 tackles), both of whom have a team-leading 2 1/2 sacks. However, two rookies have also been getting into the mix in left end Jabaal Sheard (18 tackles, 2 sacks) and defensive tackle Phil Taylor (23 tackles, 2 sacks). The duo both logged a sack last weekend and Sheard forced his second career fumble. Jackson, meanwhile, had nine tackles and has led the team in that category in all five games. Cleveland held Oakland to 178 passing yards despite cornerback Joe Haden (13 tackles, 1 sack) sitting out with a knee injury. Dimitri Patterson (14 tackles) started for the first time this year in his place alongside Sheldon Brown (17 tackles) and made a career high-tying seven tackles, and strong safety T.J. Ward (26 tackles) finished with seven stops as well. Linebacker Scott Fujita (26 tackles) is doubtful for this game due to a concussion suffered last week.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Hillis (211 rushing yards, 15 receptions, 2 TD) figured to be a key part of the Browns' offense after his breakout season last year, but Cleveland ranks only 30th in the league with 81.6 rushing yards per game. The scoring has suffered, with the Browns posting an average of just 18.2 points per game. Montario Hardesty (143 rushing yards) got the bulk of the carries versus the Raiders, running 11 times for 35 yards. With Cleveland playing from behind, McCoy (1199 passing yards, 8 TD, 3 INT) was forced to attempt 45 passes, completing 21 of them for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did not throw an interception and is the first Browns quarterback to open a season with at least one scoring pass in the first five games since Derek Anderson did so over the first seven of the 2007 campaign. McCoy ranks second in the AFC with a 1.4 percent interception rate, and credit goes in part to an offensive line anchored by left tackle Joe Thomas. McCoy has been sacked just nine times this season, tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Rookie wide receiver Greg Little (20 receptions) had a big game versus the Raiders, hauling in six passes for a career-high 72 yards. Tight end Benjamin Watson (19 receptions, 2 TD) and Massaquoi (17 receptions, 2 TD) both had three catches in the loss and tight end Alex Smith (7 receptions, 1 TD) caught his first touchdown pass since 2008.
Though it was the Seahawks who came out on top in their last meeting with the Giants, the defense did allow 464 total yards, including 395 through the air. The big play nearly cost Seattle, as New York quarterback Eli Manning connected with wide receiver Victor Cruz for a 68-yard score against the Seahawks' 23rd- ranked pass defense. However, Seattle's defense did make some plays as well, with end Anthony Hargrove (8 tackles) logging a safety in the third quarter and Browner's (28 tackles, 1 INT) aforementioned pick-six. Curry made four tackles in his final game with the Seahawks, as he had lost his starting job on the outside to rookie K.J. Wright (13 tackles), who made four stops against New York. Leroy Hill (31 tackles, 1 sack) led the team with eight tackles in that game, but is questionable for this week with a hamstring issue. Walter Thurmond (10 tackles) is expected to replace Trufant (23 tackles, 1 INT) in the starting lineup for a secondary that logged three interceptions its last time out, with safeties Kam Chancellor (30 tackles, 2 INT) and Earl Thomas (32 tackles, 1 INT) also recording picks in the Week 5 win. Defensive end Chris Clemons (16 tackles, 4 sacks) had two sacks and forced a fumble against the Giants, while defensive tackle Alan Branch (14 tackles, 1 sack) also got to the quarterback.
KEYS TO THE GAME
With the quarterback position in a bit of a flux -- Whitehurst will get most of the practice reps even though Tarvaris Jackson hasn't been ruled out -- it will be important for the Seahawks to try and get their ground game going. Lynch and Justin Forsett should both get time on the field against the Browns' struggling run defense.
Get the points. No need for the Browns to get cute in Seahawks territory. Dawson is a perfect 7-for-7 on field goal tries this year and has also hit on all 10 of his extra points.
Cleveland's linebackers. With the likes of Rubin, Taylor and Sheard doing a great job up front for Cleveland's defensive line, D'Qwell Jackson and company will need to prevent Lynch from getting to the outside, which could be more of a challenge with Fujita likely unable to play.
Neither team is likely to light up the scoreboard this weekend in Cleveland. Though the Seahawks come into the game the fresher of the two clubs and off a big win, the status of Tarvaris Jackson will impact how the offense plans for this contest. Cleveland's offense, meanwhile, continues to play a low-risk style that has led to consistent production, if not a lot of points. If that trend continues and the Browns defense makes a few plays, it should add up to a victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Browns 16, Seahawks 9