|Dangerous return men Cribbs, Washington face off Sunday|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 05 December 2007 14:41|
In a game that features two of the league's top return men, they could do worse than letting each other start at the 40-yard line.
Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs and New York's Leon Washington have been giving their teams great field position all season and should have a big influence on the outcome of Sunday's game.
``It is a big matchup. No. 1 and 2 going head-to-head,'' said Cribbs, referring to himself as the league leader in kickoff return average (31.2 yards), followed by Washington (30.6).
While Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears gets most of the attention because of his five touchdowns on special teams, Cribbs and Washington are the leaders in providing consistently good field position.
Kickoff return average isn't a stat that grabs the attention of fantasy geeks, but it's one that head coaches value immensely.
``Whenever you have a kickoff return situation, it's at the start of a half or after your opponent has scored,'' Jets coach Eric Mangini said Wednesday. ``To be able to answer with a score of your own or a dramatic field position-changing play, that's always good in terms of shifting momentum back in your favor.''
In part because of Cleveland's propensity for giving up touchdowns, Cribbs has a league leading 1,560 yards on 50 kickoff returns - nearly 400 yards ahead of Cincinnati's Glenn Holt.
Cribbs returns each kickoff like the game hinges on him taking it back for a score, running headlong into defenders without any regard for his safety.
He's succeeded twice, scoring on touchdowns of 99 yards against Oakland and 100 yards against Pittsburgh - the Browns lost both games - and has come close on many other returns.
Washington leads the league with three touchdowns on kickoffs. Because he's a running back who is 5 inches shorter than the 6-foot-1 Cribbs, he has a different approach.
``Cribbs is a little taller. Leon is a touch shorter, an explosive, quicker, power kind of running back where Cribbs is the receiver. He's tall, slender,'' Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.
Although Crennel said Cleveland could decide to kick it away from Washington, Cribbs doesn't expect that to happen much.
Cribbs, who also leads the Browns in special teams tackles, is looking forward to stopping Washington to help win the field position battle.
``We're really not afraid of anyone, but we will respect his talent,'' Cribbs said.
He says it's a matter of pride for special teams units to stop a returner rather than kick away from him.
``You've got an ego thing that goes on in the league ... kickoff teams will feel disrespected if they feel like they can't kick it to a certain player,'' Cribbs said.
Arizona didn't worry about players' feelings when it kept the ball away from Cribbs last Sunday, and it worked. He gained just 31 yards on three returns and Cleveland lost.
``I guess enough was enough. Certain teams, when they see what happened against Baltimore, they basically took that factor of making plays out of the game,'' said Cribbs, referring to his 245 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a return to the Ravens 41 in overtime that helped set up the winning field goal.
Cribbs and Washington also make defensive coordinators edgy with their trick-play potential.
Cribbs, a quarterback at Kent State, took a shotgun snap and completed a 2-point conversion to an uncovered Kellen Winslow against the Cardinals. Likewise, Washington scored an 18-yard TD against Miami after he took a shotgun snap.
``You just have to be ready for him,'' Crennel said. ``You have to know when he's in the game what kind of plays they run with him.''