Ravens won't avoid kicking to Browns' star Cribbs

September 22, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The Kansas City Chiefs did everything they could Sunday to avoid kicking the football into Joshua Cribbs' hands. Cribbs, the dangerous return specialist for the Cleveland Browns, doesn't think the Ravens will employ a similar tactic when the Browns visit M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday.

His reasoning? Because of Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

"Rosburg is the kind of guy not to back down," said Cribbs, who spent two seasons with Rosburg when he coached special teams for the Browns. "He doesn't back down. Even when we played here, I remember we used to play good returners, and we used to get up for games when we had good returners. That's the kind of coach that Coach Rosburg is."

Cribbs might not be too far off the mark. Since 2008 when Rosburg became the Ravens special teams coordinator, Cribbs has returned 19 of 23 kickoffs. And at least one Ravens player said the team doesn't plan to kick away from Cribbs at the risk of providing Cleveland with advantageous field position.

"No, we're not going to shy away from anybody," said rookie David Reed, who leads the team in special-teams tackles with four this season. "We're going to go at him and contain him."

That assignment has not been terribly easy for the Ravens, who have had a tortured history with Cribbs. Two of the Browns' top three single-game kickoff return records were registered by Cribbs at the Ravens' expense.

He compiled 245 yards on seven kickoffs to help lift the Browns to a 33-30 overtime victory on Nov. 18, 2007. The following season, he gained 237 yards on seven kickoffs, including a 92-yard touchdown in a 37-27 loss.

"In many ways, he's such an explosive player, one of the best in the league," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Their special teams – I've said this before – but their special teams are like an all-star group. They've just got a bunch of core players. The specialists are all good, and Cribbs is the main guy. And we're going to have our hands full."

Cribbs couldn't single out a specific reason for his success against the Ravens.

"They are a fast-flowing defense, which at times can work against them," Cribbs said. "But it's no correlation why I'm able to do some good things against them. We just know that when we play our division opponents, when we play a team like Baltimore, somebody of that caliber, we have to be up on our game. I have to play up to my game when facing an opponent like that."

The NFL's career leader in kick return touchdowns with eight, Cribbs combines a 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame with a bust of speed befitting his wide receiver position. Those charactertistics make Cribbs a difficult man to bring down, according to free safety Haruki Nakamura.

"It's like he's a middle linebacker running with the football," Nakamura said. "So everybody has to get to the football, everybody has to get a piece of him and hit him as much as possible, and that's with any returner. If you hit a guy hard once, twice, three times, they start running a little bit different. He consistently runs hard, but that's our goal, to kind of take him out of his own game. That guy is so explosive, it's hard to do, but we've been doing a good job the last few times containing him."

In 10 career games against the Ravens, Cribbs has averaged 26.8 yards on kickoffs, but since Harbaugh — a former special teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles — and Rosburg have assumed the reigns for the 2008 season, Cribbs has not been quite as destructive.

Take away his performance on Nov. 2, 2008, and Cribbs is averaging just 22.8 yards on 12 kickoffs and zero touchdowns in three other contests against the Ravens under Harbaugh and Rosburg.

Ravens linebacker Prescott Burgess said part of the team's success in containing Cribbs can be linked to a re-emphasis on staying in coverage lanes and avoiding over-pursuit.

"We try to get downfield and get in front of him before he can see where all the defenders are and make his move," said Burgess, who ranks second among the Ravens with two special-teams tackles. "The first thing is to get rid of the blockers and just stay in our lanes. We've got to stay in our lanes and don't try to overlap each other and put too much space between one another. We've got to break them down and make sure we secure the tackle on him because he can break tackles and he's a playmaker. So we try not to let him get started and just put the pressure on him."

This season, Cribbs has returned just four kickoffs for 65 yards (a 16.3 average). Part of that is because Cleveland's first two opponents have scored a combined 33 points, which means fewer kickoffs. But the Kansas City Chiefs intentionally avoided Cribbs Sunday.

On Monday, Browns coach Eric Mangini acknowledged that Cribbs – who posted a 65-yard touchdown catch against Kansas City – must get more touches. One option is lining up the former Kent State quarterback under center in the offense's Wildcat formation.

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