From Wildcat to Returns, Cribbs is Top Threat

Versatile Josh Cribbs, who entered the NFL as an undrafted quarterback, is the top playmaker on a Cleveland team that's getting horrific quarterback play and has traded two playmaking receiving threats. Dom Capers and Shawn Slocum share their thoughts.

At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, there was no future in the NFL for Kent State quarterback Josh Cribbs. So, he went undrafted in 2005 and stayed in Ohio by signing with the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns still don't have a quarterback, despite having millions locked up in Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. But what they do have is one of the NFL's most dangerous threats in Cribbs.

"He presents a lot of problems," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday. "He's outstanding with the ball in his hands. They're probably trying to get him to touch the ball as many times as he can. He had the return for a touchdown. They ran an awful lot of Wildcat last week, which is a direct snap to him. He can run the ball on the sweep, he can run the option, he's even threw it a couple times."

Cribbs enters Sunday's game against Green Bay with a punt return touchdown against Minnesota and a kickoff return touchdown against Pittsburgh. His outstanding productivity on kickoff returns (28.4-yard average) and punt returns (16.8) is practically the equivalent of giving the offense an extra first down. Plus, in his last three games, he's carried the ball eight times for 91 yards.

With Anderson wildly inaccurate, Quinn horribly ineffective, running back Jamal Lewis well past his prime and Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards having been traded, Cribbs is practically the only playmaker left for the Browns.

Considering the Browns rank a woeful 30th in the NFL in scoring at 11.5 points per game despite Cribbs' two touchdowns on special teams, stopping him is Job 1 (and Job 2 and Job 3) for the Packers.

The Browns ran 13 snaps of Wildcat this week, and it will be interesting to see how the Packers cope with the NFL's newest trend. Outside of a snap apiece against St. Louis and Minnesota, Green Bay has yet to face a team that runs Wildcat extensively.

"We worked against it in training camp just in anticipation," Capers said. "We saw a snap of it against the Vikings with (Percy) Harvin back there. We anticipated seeing that. We haven't seen a team come in like they did last week. First half of the game, they were probably more Wildcat than anything else."

That's because few players in the NFL seem better-suited to run it than Cribbs. As a senior at Kent State, Cribbs completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,215 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions, plus rushed for 893 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games.

In 13 Wildcat snaps against Pittsburgh, the Browns ran it 11 times for 57 yards, including six carries for 45 yards by Cribbs. Cribbs also threw it twice; one was dropped and one was intercepted by Troy Polamalu.

"Yes, I think he's kind of the classic Wildcat quarterback," Capers said. "You know what? You see a lot of people having some element of Wildcat. It's kind of been the (trend) with the Dolphins doing what they did last year, and they've kind of taken it to a different level this year. What he gives them is a guy that can not only run, but he's thrown the ball, because he's done that in college."

Where Cribbs really makes his mark is as a kick returner. In four-plus seasons, Cribbs has eight touchdowns on returns — one more than Hall of Fame candidate Eric Metcalf had in his six seasons with Cleveland.

"He's very strong, and he runs with good balance," Browns coach Eric Mangini said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "He's got better speed than you think, and he's got just a will. There's some plays where he just wills it to happen. I know that sounds — that's not a tangible characteristic — but it feels tangible when you watch him run."

Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum has seen the tangible qualities. He coached against Cribbs at the 2008 Pro Bowl and has seen plenty of film in preparation for this game. What does he see? A north-south guy with enough wiggle to make defenders miss and enough power to run through arm tackles.

"You're not going to knock him down," Slocum said, calling Cribbs one of the top two or three "at least" in the league.

Six of Cribbs' career return touchdowns have come on kickoffs. The Packers rank sixth in the NFL in kickoff coverage by allowing only 20.3 yards per return. Cribbs' other two touchdowns have come on punts. The Packers are dead last in the NFL in net punting with a 33.9-yard average, due mostly to the Bengals' Quan Cosby running roughshod in Week 2.

Considering how the Packers had no problems in shutting down the explosive Harvin on kickoffs a few weeks ago, Slocum doesn't figure to play it safe against Cribbs. He likes how Mason Crosby is kicking off with distance and hang time and how the other 10 players are covering.

"It's about field position," Slocum said. "We can spend the entire game bloop kicking or squib kicking and giving them the ball on the 40, or we can kick away and cover it the way we have to cover it. If we do it right, we should tackle the returner."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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