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Containing Browns Wildcard Josh Cribbs Is Key To Avoiding Upset

With Cleveland likely starting rookie quarterback Colt McCoy and the Steelers looking like one of the best teams in the NFL, the smart money is on Pittsburgh to move to 4-1 after their Week 6 tilt with the Browns. However, a Steelers win very well may be contingent on containing Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland's most frightening player.

Cribbs is a jack of all trades, an absolute Swiss army knife of a football player. First and foremost, he is a deadly return man. In his career, he has 33 returns of 40 or more yards and 10 touchdowns, three of which have come against the Steelers.

He's also off to his best start as a wide receiver, recording 175 yards on 13 receptions through five games this year. Those numbers are hardly impressive, but the Browns' anemic passing attack (198.6 ypg, 22nd in the league) is mostly to blame. The point stands: Cribbs in the open field is a bad, bad thing. While the Browns have mostly been targeting him with short, dump-off passes, Cribbs has shown that he can also make plays downfield from time to time.

Finally, Cribbs can sustain drives for the Browns by taking snaps in the wildcat formation. Steelers fans learned that in tragic fashion, as the Browns upset Pittsburgh last year, due in large part to a brilliant 87-yard rushing performance (10.9 ypc) from Cribbs. He even threw a (surprisingly accurate) pass last week against the Atlanta Falcons. While running back Peyton Hillis figures to be Cleveland's bread and butter - assuming he's healthy - look for the Browns to sprinkle in a sizeable dose of direct snaps to Cribbs, as well.      

Head coach Mike Tomlin is already preparing for that:

"We should expect to see a great deal of Cribbs in the wildcat regardless of their quarterback situation because he had such success against us a year ago, and that’s usually the nature of the league...when you show areas of deficiency, usually you are going to continue to see those challenges until you fix it. We didn’t fix it in that football game. We will have an opportunity to fix it in this one."

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.