Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday leftovers

So what in the world has happened to Joshua Cribbs? The Joshua Cribbs who used to thrill Browns fans with scintillating kickoff and punt returns.

The one who, when he caught the ball, made you hold your breath because you knew something exciting was about to happen. The one who, when he caught the ball, would enhance the Browns’ chances of winning a ball game.

Yeah, that Joshua Cribbs. What has happened to him? He’s been missing in action.

Hard to believe he has lost his luster, but that’s exactly what has befallen the Browns’ only serious threat of breaking open a game. Check that. Make that former serious threat.

Just as hard to believe is the last time Cribbs found the end zone as a return specialist. It’s been 29 games. Not since he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a 41-34 victory in Kansas City on Dec. 20, 2009 has he scored via that route.

That was the game, you’ll remember, when Jerome Harrison ran for a club-record 284 yards and three touchdowns. Harrison and Cribbs accounted for more than 500 total yards that afternoon.

Since Cribbs last visited the end zone, the Browns are just 11-18. That’s not to say he’s the reason, but his returns definitely gave them a better chance to win. He was an impactful player.

How many times did Cribbs put his club in a good position on offense to change the tenor of a game? He was the ultimate weapon in gaining favorable field position because you never knew when he would break one.

That has clearly changed. Whether the National Football League has finally found a way to shut him down or he just doesn’t have it anymore depends on your perspective.

Cribbs’ style was strictly north and south. Rarely did he move east and west to avoid a tackle. And he used his great balance to avoid being easily knocked off his feet. He was strong, fast and, above all, determined.

That has all changed. Teams now squeeze the middle of the field and force Cribbs to veer in one direction or another and into the arms of waiting tacklers who take different angles.

There is no question the new kickoff rule also has hampered his style. At first, he downed kickoffs that reached the end zone. Two games into the season, he changed his approach. Unless the kickoff cleared the end zone, he was coming out.

His average per kick return this season is 26.8 yards, the third highest of his career. However, that number includes the end zone yards and nets out to about the Cleveland 21-yard line.

Compare that to the 30.7 average in 2007 that netted out to nearly the 32-yard line. That’s a huge difference. He also led NFL specialists in total yards, average and all-purpose yards that season.

Rarely these days does Cribbs make it beyond the 25-yard line, thus putting the offense in a hole. More and more, opponents are getting to him before he reaches the 20. Offensive coordinators prefer much shorter fields with which to work.

Some suggest that Cribbs’ full-time status as a wide receiver has robbed him of the ability to rip off his trademark long runs. Maybe. Maybe not. Only he knows for certain and he’s not talking.

Fans still hold their breath when he catches the ball in the end zone or on a punt. They do it more from habit than anything else. They yearn for the days he would take it all the way.

They have a hard time convincing themselves that maybe those days are gone and might not ever return.

* * *

It was nice to see Peyton Hillis back in uniform and on the field most of Sunday’s 23-20 loss in Cincinnati. Showed that he has not lost that tenacious desire to grind out yards. And he dealt out a lot of punishment along the way to his 65 yards.

But it appeared as though he began to tire in the second half after missing several weeks with hamstring problems. Chris Ogbonnaya made a couple of token appearances to give Hillis a break and knocked out 16 yards on three carries.

Why coach Pat Shurmur did not use him more is a puzzle. His slashing running style is a nice change of pace in the Cleveland attack. After all, he did run for 115 yards in the Jacksonville victory eight days ago. And yet, he festered on the bench when the Cleveland offense could have used him.

* * *

Is it time to call Greg Little stone hands? It sure looked as though the rookie wide receiver had two mitts of concrete Sunday.

He was targeted 13 times by quarterback Colt McCoy and made just five catches, including his first touchdown as a professional. It should have been nine catches because four other McCoy passes hit him in a bad spot. His hands.

We’re 11 games into the season and no longer accepting the excuse that Little didn’t play college ball at all last season at North Carolina because of some off-the-field problems and thus is rusty. That excuse doesn’t fly anymore. He’s a high draft choice and it’s time for him to step up and contribute.

* * *

Now let’s talk about another wide receiver. This time in a positive vein. Jordan Norwood has been a pleasant surprise in the last two games. Why have the Browns been hiding this guy on the bench?

He has been targeted seven times by McCoy in the last two games and caught five passes for 120 yards, including catches for 51 and 36 yards. The 36-yarder would have resulted in a first-quarter touchdown against Cincinnati Sunday had McCoy not angled the pass closer to the sideline. As it turned out, Norwood scored his first pro TD later in the drive on a 24-yard grab.

The second-year man shows he knows how to get open and McCoy is looking more and more in his direction. The best part is it appears as though he does not have hands made of stone.

* * *

Stream of thought: A few months ago, the Browns rewarded tight end Evan Moore with a contract extension that extends through 2013 at $3 million a year. Only one question: Why? . . . Can one call Paul Brown Stadium the Factory of Sadness southern Ohio campus? After Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, why not? . . . Right guard Shawn Lauvao was completely overwhelmed and overmatched against whoever lined up against him Sunday. . . . Keep an eye on defensive tackle Scott Paxson. A teammate of Norwood at Penn State, this newcomer is aggressive, tends to be where the ball is and gives defensive coordinator Dick Jauron the opportunity to rotate three men at the position without missing a beat. . . . With Scott Fujita apparently sidelined with his broken arm, it would be nice to see Titus Brown get a shot at weak side linebacker. He showed some nice moves Sunday and had one of the Browns’ two sacks.

No comments:

Post a Comment