Meeting a divisional foe twice a year has a way of building up a familiarity with a player’s strengths or a coach’s schemes. That may be the most positive result of the Ravens having faced Cleveland Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs.
Since being signed as an undrafted rookie in 2005, Cribbs has tried to weave his way through the Ravens’ coverage units in 12 career meetings, and Cribbs has posted some memorable performances.
Cribbs has registered three of Cleveland’s highest kick return totals with two of them occurring against the Ravens. His seven-return, 245-yard display on Nov. 18, 2007 ranks second only to his six-return, 269-yard, two-touchdown outburst against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 20, 2009. And Cribbs’ seven-return, 237-yard outing on Nov. 2, 2008 included a 92-yard touchdown that has helped propel him to the top of the NFL’s all-time leaders in kick-return touchdowns.
“Coming into this game, we know Cribbs,” said linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is tied for third among the Ravens in special-teams tackles with five. “We know what he represents, we know what he does. So you’re going to have your alerts on before the game. … There is a familiarity, knowing what your opponent is going to do, what he can do and what he’s capable of.”
One person who may know Cribbs better than anyone else on the Ravens is special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who served the same role with the Browns between 2001 and 2006.
Rosburg, who has consistently expressed his respect for Cribbs, said the execution part is more arduous than the preparation component.
“I know them [the Browns] really well, and we all know them really well because we’ve played against them so many times,” Rosburg said during his weekly briefing Thursday. “But talking about it is different than actually executing it. The thing that we have really focused on this week is we have to be really fundamentally good football players with this player. He’s strong. He’s elusive. He’s got speed. So we know going into the game that he’s a big weapon for them, and it’s our job to make sure that he doesn’t get away from us.”
Cribbs, who has also returned twp punts for scores, is currently tied for seventh in the NFL in kick returns with a 26.8-yard average. And after failing to post a kick return of at least 40 yards in 2010, he has recorded four such returns this season – three of which have led to Cleveland touchdowns.
“The biggest thing about him is not letting him get a full head of steam because he’s like a big running back,” safety Haruki Nakamura said of the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Cribbs. “He’s one of those guys who’s not going to look to make a cut left or right. He’s looking to run straight downhill, find a hole, and just go. We need to take away his momentum because he does a great job. From the time that he has the ball in his hands, he’s full speed. So it’s very important to stay in front of him.”