Notebook: Ravens still wary of Browns' Cribbs

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens' respect for dangerous Cleveland Browns kick returner Josh Cribbs hasn't been diminished by a season below his usual gold standard. Slowed by injuries and the tactics of opponents, the Pro Bowl special-teams star is averaging only 20.8 yards per kickoff return with a long return of 36 yards. He ranks 31st in the league.

He's averaging just 8.2 yards per punt return with a long return of 17 yards. Nonetheless, the Ravens still consider Cribbs to be a dangerous man.

"Yeah, he can break one at anytime," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday. "I spent a lot of time on the special teams tape this morning just kind of going back through it, and he really hasn't had opportunities. People have not kicked him the ball. He's had very few just straight up kickoff return opportunities. "They've been squibbing it, they've been lobbing it, they've been kicking it over to the sideline on punts, kicking it out of bounds. He's just had very few opportunities. I think they block as well as they ever have. We're just going to have to be on top of our game, because he could make the difference. He has before."

Cribbs has eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns, two punt returns for scores and is the NFL career leader in kickoff returns for touchdowns. Against the Ravens, Cribbs set two of the Browns;' top three single-game kickoff return records. In a Nov. 18, 2007 game, he had seven kickoffs for 245 yards. One year later, Cribbs piled up 237 yards of kickoff returns that included a 92-yard touchdown. "I know he's had some issues, but I think one of the things that's clear when I watch the video is that everybody respects him so much," said special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who coached Cribbs as a rookie in Cleveland. "Nobody wants to give him the ball in open spaces, and they take extra efforts to kick the ball away from him, kick the ball out of bounds when they're punting. "And I think if you look at the numbers he's had, he hasn't had that many clean opportunities, and I think that's probably the biggest thing. Everybody respects this guy; they know what he can do, and you just don't want to put the game in his hands." In 11 career games against Baltimore, Cribbs has averaged 26.7 yards per kickoff return with 10 rushes for 59 yards and nine catches for 93 yards. "It doesn't matter what the numbers are, he's still Josh Cribbs and he can hurt you if you don't do your job the right way," Ravens running back Jalen Parmele said. "We know what we need to do special-teams wise. We have to have one of our best games of the season against these guys."

REED FINED BY NFL: Ravens star free safety Ed Reed was fined $10,000 by the league office for roughing the passer, according to a league spokesman.

Reed hit New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the face with a forearm during a 30-24 win Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. "Specifically, on a pass play, he unnecessarily struck the quarterback in the head and neck area with his forearm," the league announced.

Meanwhile, Saints defensive end Will Smith wasn't fined for kneeing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the head after he was already on the ground. Flacco was infuriated about the lack of the flag and yelled at officials. The NFL may have decided

that they couldn't tell if Smith intentionally kneed Flacco. STEELERS' WIN PUTS THE PRESSURE ON RAVENS: With the Pittsburgh Steelers clobbering the Carolina Panthers, 27-3, on Thursday night, Harbaugh didn't stay tuned in for long. "I watched a little bit of it, then I checked in on the score, and then I lost interest pretty quickly," Harbaugh said. "So, hey, that was good for them."

The Ravens (10-4) need to win their game Sunday over the Browns (5-9) to keep pace with the Steelers, who hold the tiebreaker edge in the AFC North over Baltimore. The Ravens' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this season puts them behind the Steelers in the division record tiebreaker.

The Steelers can clinch the division title with a win next week over the Browns. The Ravens need to win Sunday and hope for a Steelers loss to have any shot at winning the division and earning the second seed in the AFC. They can clinch a playoff berth Sunday with a win over the Browns.

"They got it done, congratulations to them," Harbaugh said. "We just move forward. Now, it's our turn and we have to step up." NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shifted division games to the end of the season in an effort to try to make games more meaningful. "It's a division game," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, it's going to go right down to the wire. That's why Roger and the NFL wanted to put these division games at the end of the season. I think it's a great idea. I think it's been as much or more than they anticipated it being, and that's what makes it exciting.

"It's a very important game for us. It's a very tough team to play on the road at their place and the conditions we're going to have to play them in. I think they're building their team for their stadium and for their conditions. We're going to get the very best shot that they can give us, and we know they're a very good team. So, it's going to be a tough environment."

BAD WEATHER: The Ravens are bracing for wintry weather Sunday in Cleveland, where the winds are cold and gusty coming off Lake Erie. There's a 50-percent chance of snow Sunday with temperatures forecast in the 20s. "I've had some experience there, obviously," said Rosburg, who coached in Cleveland for several seasons. "It's one of those deals where you've got to show up on game day and then analyze it before the game. But you can count on this time of year, in the shores of Lake Erie, you're going to have wind and you're going to have probably blowing snow. And whatever it says it's going to be at the airport, it's going to be worse down by the stadium, so you can count on it."

Quarterback Joe Flacco said he's not concerned about the harsh weather. "Sometimes it can be harder to throw the ball with the wind than against it, depending on how strong it is, because if you get the ball with the wind, you can throw it nice and easy into it," Flacco said. "But, sometimes the ball just takes off and goes too far or gets dragged to the left or right too much.

"When you're throwing into the wind, I can feel pretty confident about keeping the ball down a little bit and not throwing the ball deep sometimes, maybe, and throw more crossing stuff."

QUICK HITS: Running back Ray Rice was named the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week after rushing for a season-high 153 yards and gaining a career-high 233 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns in a 30-24 win over the New Orleans Saints.

… Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said that quarterback Joe Flacco checked out of plays while utilizing an alert package roughly 24 to 36 times against New Orleans. "I know it looked like Joe just had an easy job at the office, but he really did an outstanding job of getting us in and out of plays all day and did it very subtly," Cameron said.

… Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe recorded six tackles and a sack against the Saints, escaping from the doghouse after a month of being deactivated as a healthy scratch. What happened? "It's always a combination of a lot of things," Harbaugh said. "There's nothing you can pinpoint one thing on. It's numbers as much as anything. You've got to make choices between guys. For a while, it was he or Prescott [Burgess]. For a while, it was he or Donte' [Stallworth]. You've just got to make decisions on what side of the ball gets more numbers. The better you play and the better you practice, the more value you have. I think guys understand that. The good thing about our team at that level of becoming active is we have a lot of competition. It's tough on some guys. Every single guy is disappointed. Brandon McKinney was very disappointed when he sat down last week, and we did it for strategic reasons – because we wanted another pass rusher. These guys want to play. I think the good thing is they've got to compete and practice for that playing time, and then you just decide what's best, what gives you the best chance to win."

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