Cleveland’s Cribbs is the X-Factor

CLEVELAND — On “Around The League” this afternoon I said Josh Cribbs could be the difference in this game. Well, so far he is. Pittsburgh punt and kick coverage is horrible and Cribbs is the best return man in the NFL.

He fumbled the second Pittsburgh punt of the game five yards behind him, which only seemed to set up a few more lanes, as Cribbs twisted back the other way, but upfield and took the ball inside the 10. The Steelers don’t want to kick to him in anyway, but sometimes you can’t avoid it. Cribbs is getting a lot of work in the Wildcat as well, and is by far the most dynamic playmaker on this Browns’ roster. (Cribbs’ pursuit of a new contract, by the way, looked very promising as of a few weeks ago. But, according to a league source, owner Randy Lerner opted to put the talks on hold until he gets a new head of the organization in place).

Anywho, perhaps coach Eric Mangini should have gone back to Cribbs in the Wildcat inside the red zone, because a holding penalty crushed the Browns and they had to settle for a field goal. Like how the Browns are trying to go no-huddle and establish a little tempo, but they’re going to have to run the ball some too, and are taking to the air thus far.

Overall, the Browns are playing very hard, again, which they have been doing for a few weeks now despite having nothing to play for and having lost key starters to injuries. They are dominating Pittsburgh’s offensive line on third down, with two sacks, and Ben Roethlisberger does not look sharp at all, holding the ball too long. It’s going to be very difficult to execute a precision passing game in these windy and freezing conditions, and the longer the Steelers are unable to reverse their horrible field position, the worse shape they are going to be in.

Look for the Steelers to try to start feeding tight end Heath Miller soon. He is a huge part of their game plan tonight, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, and someone they want to feature again. He’s one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets but had just two catches for 29 yards in the past two games and has had only one big game since October.

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