When healthy, Cleveland Browns receiver and former Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs is one of the most dynamic players in the AFC North division. But the league's recent ruling to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line will increase touchbacks and take away Cribbs' biggest contribution to the team.
Now the Browns are forced to find ways to get Cribbs more involved next season. Here are three suggestions:
1. Short passes and screens in the West Coast offense
Analysis: One of the biggest criticisms of former head coach Eric Mangini and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was their lack of creativity in using Cribbs. Outside of the Wildcat formation, which we will get to later, Cleveland didn't find enough ways to put the ball in Cribbs' hands. Rookie head coach Pat Shurmur will install a West Coast offense in Cleveland this season, which should provide more chances for Cribbs. Shorter timing routes are a staple in the West Coast offense. Slants and screens are two ways to quickly get Cribbs the ball and provide opportunities for him to break tackles in the open field.
2. Smart, selective use of the Wildcat
Analysis: The Browns had a nice find in 2009 with using Cribbs in the Wildcat. But Cleveland eventually made it too big a part of its offense and defenses became more accustomed to shutting it down. The formation can still be effective if used more selectively. Injuries hurt Cribbs last season, but he can be very effective moving the chains when healthy. If the play calling also improves, Cleveland likely will get better results with Cribbs in this formation in 2011.
3. More opportunities in the slot
Analysis: Cleveland's receiving corps is not very deep or talented. That is why the Browns should give Cribbs more plays in the slot next season. Quick outs, bubble screens and reverses are just three easy options Cleveland would have with Cribbs from the slot. Each would allow him to make his yards running after the catch, which is his best asset. Cribbs is not a polished receiver. But Shurmur and his staff will have a chance to coach around his weaknesses and utilize his strengths.