NFL Nation: Josh Cribbs

Josh Cribbs leaves in sling

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
7:45
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jets wide receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs left Sunday's game with a right shoulder injury and had his arm in a sling following the 23-3 loss to the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.

The Jets announced in the second quarter that Cribbs had left the game, and he did not return any kicks or run the ball out of the Wildcat during his brief playing time.

Antonio Cromartie handled kickoffs with Cribbs sidelined, while Kyle Wilson returned punts. Cromartie had a nice day averaging 31.5 yards on his four returns.

During a game in which the Jets benched starting quarterback Geno Smith, the loss of Cribbs meant the Jets were without an emergency quarterback.

PAIR GET X-RAYS: Muhammad Wilkerson got an X-ray after the game. He said he was fine. Wilkerson has been dealing with a wrist injury although it didn't prevent him from playing Sunday.

Wide receiver Greg Salas also went for an X-ray, and he too said he was fine. He didn't say where he had the X-ray taken. Salas had one catch for no yards and was targeted four times.

HOLMES AND CRO PLAY: Game-time decisions Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes both played, although in varying degrees.

Cromartie (hip) played the majority of the snaps and said it was the best he has felt and he had confidence in his hip. Cromartie got beat for a touchdown on a slant route.

Holmes (hamstring) played just three snaps and said afterward it was a "coach's decision." He did not register a catch and wasn't targeted.

NFL Week 12 Sunday Studs and Duds

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
10:19
PM ET
So on Sunday, I tried to explain a tie to a 6-year-old.

Six-year-old: Did the Vikings lose?

Me: No. They tied the Packers.

Six-year-old: Oh, so both teams won?

Me: No. They tied. They finished with the same score.

Six-year-old: But no one lost. Doesn't someone have to win?

Me: You would think, so, huh? Hey, look! Dora is on!

Week 12 brought us a tie, a bloated logjam of bad AFC teams and even more fun. Kissing your sister never seemed like a better option. What follows are the highlights and lowlights of nearly seven hours of watching and chatting about Sunday's games.

STUDS

Romo
1. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback: Guess which quarterback has the NFL's highest number of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime during the past three seasons? Darn. I think I gave it away. Per ESPN Stats & Information, it's Romo, who now has 11 such drives after leading a 58-yard march late Sunday afternoon to lift the Cowboys to a 24-21 win over the New York Giants. The victory put the Cowboys into a virtual tie with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East; the Cowboys have a heavy advantage in early tiebreakers. Sunday's final drive included completions on all three third-down passes. There is no doubt that Romo has made some high-profile, late-game mistakes in his career -- even this season -- but they shouldn't overshadow the good work he has done during the same span.

2. The little things, Carolina Panthers: You could point to any number of reasons that the Panthers pulled off a 20-16 victory at the Miami Dolphins, but did you catch what happened right before halftime? It was the kind of sequence that usually elicits a note at the time but rarely compels a lookback. With eight seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Panthers lined up at their own 43-yard line. There figured to be time for one more play, and quarterback Cam Newton tossed a short pass for receiver Brandon LaFell. Suddenly, LaFell was sprinting down the right sideline with tight end Greg Olsen waving him on. LaFell and Olsen both appeared to be watching the scoreboard clock. LaFell stepped out of bounds with one second remaining after a 29-yard gain. Twenty-nine yards in seven seconds! The play got Graham Gano on the field for a 46-yard field goal. As a result, the Dolphins were playing for a touchdown instead of a field goal on their final possession. Sometimes, it's the little things.

3. St. Louis Rams running game: Those who watched the Rams' 42-21 victory over the Chicago Bears saw a respectable running game pummel the Bears' horrendous running defense. Because we're in the holiday season, I decided to classify the Rams running game as "Stud" rather than the Bears defense as "Dud." Trust me, it could have gone either way. The Rams rushed for a stunning 261 yards, including 213 before contact. The latter number is partly a reflection of their blocking but mostly the Bears' really poor fits. Injuries have decimated their front seven, and over the past five games, they are yielding 5.9 yards per rush, including 4.1 yards before contact. Opponents have scored nine touchdowns and haven't lost a fumble over that span. The Rams took full advantage Sunday.

4. Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator: It is pretty clear that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has resurrected his career this season. Rivers entered Sunday with the NFL's fourth-best QBR, and his winning touchdown pass Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium capped a 392-yard, three-touchdown, zero-turnover game. You and I both know that elite quarterback play draws the attention of everyone in the NFL. So who gets credit for Rivers' renaissance? Rivers, of course, and surely new Chargers coach Mike McCoy has played a role. But I submit Whisenhunt as a less-obvious recipient. Whisenhunt's work with Rivers and the Chargers' offense has reminded us how good he had the Arizona Cardinals going as head coach when he had competent personnel at quarterback. There will be more than a few NFL teams searching this winter for an offensive-minded head-coaching candidate with a history of elevating the play of quarterbacks. At this point, it's difficult to know how Whisenhunt couldn't qualify as a strong candidate for one of those jobs.

Moreno
5. Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos running back: Sunday night's game between the Broncos and New England Patriots was complex and nuanced. But let's not allow the Broncos' big early lead, the Patriots epic comeback and a dramatic overtime to overshadow a career night from Moreno. He finished with a career-high 224 yards, including 190 before overtime, on 37 carries -- and with not so much as one run of 20 yards. (His longest was 18.) Amazingly, it was only the fifth 100-yard game of Moreno's career. The only time a player has rushed for more yards against the Patriots was in 1973, when O.J. Simpson put up 250 yards for the Buffalo Bills.

DUDS

1. NFC North: For most of the season, the running joke has been that no team wants to win the NFC East. Well, how about the NFC North? On Sunday, none of its four teams won -- and two were playing each other! That's right. When time finally ran out Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings were tied at 26. The Bears' loss to the Rams dropped them to 6-5, and the Detroit Lions couldn't beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field. The Lions are in the best shape of the lot, given their relative health, the tiebreaker situation and their remaining schedule. What's most amazing, however, is that the Packers are 0-3-1 since Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone, and yet, they remain in the thick of the race. If they can manage to win Thursday at Ford Field, and if the Bears lose Sunday at the Vikings, the Packers would have sole possession of first place in the division! Honestly, a 9-7 record -- or even 8-7-1 -- could clinch the division title for someone.

2. AFC playoff race: We might have to update this mess weekly as a regular reminder of how uninspiring the first round of the postseason could be in the AFC. As of Sunday night, 11 of the 16 teams in the conference had losing records. Six of them were 5-6 and thus technically tied for the No. 6 playoff seed. If the season were over, the Tennessee Titans would win the tiebreaker, according to ESPN.com's updated playoff standings. The Titans reached 5-6 after winning their first game (in four starts) with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a come-from-behind victory over, yes, the 4-6 Oakland Raiders. There are some who think the 5-6 Pittsburgh Steelers will emerge as a genuine playoff team -- i.e., one with a winning record -- but I'm not holding my breath.

3. The Wildcat: Can we declare the end of this fad? Please? Watching Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens served as a reminder that there are few truly unique ideas in the NFL. The Jets used Josh Cribbs in the alignment to some success, even getting a 13-yard completion to quarterback Geno Smith, but let's face it: More than anything, the Jets were covering for Smith's near-complete inability to run their conventional offense. As ESPN.com Jets reporter Rich Cimini noted, they have scored one touchdown in their past 31 possessions with Smith at quarterback. The Ravens, meanwhile, tried jump-starting their struggling offense by using backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in a similar manner. Taylor gained 7 yards on four carries, and starter Joe Flacco made clear he disapproved of the plan. There is a difference between being innovative and cute; one is valued and the other is a cliché. The Wildcat has descended into the latter category.

4. Worst first-place team, Indianapolis Colts: Although they are 7-4 and are maintaining a comfortable two-game lead in the AFC South, the Colts hold a peculiar distinction: They have been outscored by opponents this season. That's right. Their 40-11 loss to the Cardinals means they have allowed 260 points and scored 253 in 11 games. That's pretty rare for a team that, at this moment, holds the No. 3 seed in the AFC. They've been blown out in two of their past three games, and over that span, they've faced a combined halftime deficit of 72-9. Without quarterback Andrew Luck's pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, the Colts would be under .500 this season.

5. Worst team in football, Houston Texans: Is there any other way to view the Texans after they lost at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars? Both teams are 2-9, but the Jaguars have won their past two, and the Texans haven't won in more than two months. (The 2-9 Atlanta Falcons were at least competitive Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints.) They couldn't score a single touchdown against a Jaguars defense that was giving up nearly 32 points per game before Sunday. This season has turned into an unmitigated disaster, one that has raised the question of how aggressively owner Bob McNair will act. With every passing week, the chances grow that the Texans will open 2014 with a new coach, general manager and quarterback.

Halftime Report: Ravens 9, Jets 3

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
2:42
PM ET
BALTIMORE -- In the freezing cold -- it felt like 22 degrees in Baltimore at the start of the game with the windchill -- the Ravens have a 9-3 lead against the New York Jets in a field-goal fest.

The Jets have held running back Ray Rice to 16 yards on 8 carries, but have allowed 168 passing yards to the Ravens. The Ravens have 212 yards of total offense compared to 73 yards for the Jets.

WILDCAT SETS TONE: In the first two series, the Jets snapped the ball seven times to Geno Smith and four times to Josh Cribbs. Cribbs actually threw a 15-yard pass to Smith. The Jets employed a lot of Cribbs in the wildcat in a win against the Saints this season. Notably, he didn’t take a single direct snap in the second half of that game.

SECONDARY ISSUES: Ed Reed was able to break up a pass in the end zone, a 12-yard pass intended for Jacoby Jones. There was contact on the play and a flag was thrown in the end zone, but after the refs conferred, the flag was picked up and Reed was credited with pass defensed.

Antonio Cromartie picked up an interception in the second quarter, but he also gave up a 60-yard pass to Torrey Smith. There were two dropped interceptions by the Jets, one from Dee Milliner and another from Antonio Allen.

HOLMES, HILL, NELSON? The top three Jets receivers of the first half are, in order, Greg Salas, Geno Smith and Bilal Powell. The Jets main wide receivers all but disappeared in the first half.

Who are these guys in Jets uniforms?

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
9:10
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Santonio Holmes, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow didn't play, and Jeremy Kerley left in the second quarter with a potentially serious elbow injury. It left Geno Smith with a bunch of no-name guys: Greg Salas. Zach Sudfeld. David Nelson. Throw in part-time wide receiver Josh Cribbs, and you're talking about four guys who weren't on the New York Jets' roster at the start of the season.

[+] EnlargeZach Sudfeld
Al Bello/Getty ImagesZach Sudfeld caught two passes for 46 yards.
That's what you call a patchwork receiving corps. Those four players combined for seven of the Jets' nine receptions in the 26-20 upset of the New Orleans Saints Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"I've seen veteran quarterbacks struggle with new faces and new pieces," Nelson said. "The fact that we have a rookie quarterback, four new guys lined up at the line of scrimmage and he's okay with it ... it says everything about who he is and what he can become."

Smith (8-for-19, 115 yards) struggled, but he didn't commit any turnovers and he was sacked only twice. He didn't win the game, but he didn't lose it, either. Still, it was impressive that the Jets were able to function with so many new parts. Salas, who made his Jets debut, became their 29th offensive player to see the field this season.

Rex Ryan credited offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

"I think it's clear that he should be the offensive assistant coach of the year," Ryan said, inventing an award. "That's obvious. The job that he and his staff have done is tremendous. They've found ways. He's not looking for excuses. 'Well, we don't have this, we don't have Holmes, we don't have this guy, we don't have Cumberland.' He just finds a way. Not one time did he ever flinch -- ever -- and we run the ball for 198 yards on 36 carries."

The Anonymous Four contributed in a variety of ways. Salas made a 44-yard reception. Sudfeld caught two passes for 46 yards. Cribbs caught two passes and, working out of the Wildcat, threw a 25-yard pass. Nelson caught a 19-yard pass.

The Jets signed Salas off the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad. Sudfeld arrived on waivers from the New England Patriots. Cribbs and Nelson were unemployed.

"When you have guys come off the street, like myself, you have a lot to prove," Cribbs said. "When you have hungry guys that want to play, that's what you call playing like a Jet."

Rapid Reaction: New York Jets

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
4:13
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Jets (5-4) stamped themselves as one of the NFL's biggest surprises, staging a monster upset one week after a 40-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. How can you explain this team? They're 5-0 in odd weeks, ranging from sensational to awful on a week-to-week basis. Now it can be said: They're a legitimate wild-card contender. Why not? In the watered-down AFC, anything is possible. As for the Ryan Bowl, Rex won for the third straight time, handing his twin brother Rob, the Saints' defensive coordinator, another bitter defeat.

Stock watch: Statistically, it was a dog-ugly game for Geno Smith (8-for-19, 115 yards), but the rookie quarterback learned a valuable lesson about game management. On this day, the Jets needed him to do one thing -- protect the ball -- and he did that. He had no turnovers for only the second time in nine games. He got away with a couple of bad throws, but it was no harm, no foul. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got too conservative late in the game, and it nearly cost them.

The ex-Saint goes marching: Jets running back Chris Ivory, traded by the Saints last offseason for a fourth-round pick, delivered a loud statement to his old team. Facing the Saints' vulnerable run defense (4.8 yards per carry before Sunday), Ivory rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts. He's known as a tenacious downhill runner, but he flashed impressive speed on the edge, breaking three long runs. Clearly, he's faster than people realize. The Jets attacked the Saints with a creative running scheme that featured read-option plays and the Wildcat, including a pass completion by Josh Cribbs out of the Wildcat.

Welcome back, defense: After a horrible outing last week, the Jets responded with perhaps their best defensive effort of the season. They sacked Drew Brees only twice, but they generated consistent pressure on him and intercepted him twice -- one by linebacker DeMario Davis and another by cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who allowed a big play and a touchdown. It helped that wide receiver Marques Colston (knee) didn't play, and running back Darren Sproles (concussion) left in the first quarter. Injuries notwithstanding, it was impressive defense.

The castoffs: The Jets played without their top receiver (Santonio Holmes) and their top two tight ends (Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow), and they lost wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (elbow) in the second quarter, leaving a patchwork group of targets. Greg Salas. Zach Sudfeld. David Nelson. Cribbs. Who are these guys? Not one of them began the season on the Jets' roster, yet they managed to combine for seven catches for 128 yards.

What's ahead: The Jets get a bye in Week 10.
Josh Cribbs drew the Twitter ire of Cleveland Browns fans with one simple comment after the Jets were blown out by the Bengals on Sunday.

"We're not the Browns," the special-teams specialist told Newsday after Sunday's game. "We’re not the team that gives up. We have fight in this team."

OK then.

Cribbs then did a spin on one of his more well-known quotes after a Browns' loss to Pittsburgh. In Cleveland, he said the Browns were "going to take this loss and run with it."

With the Jets, he told Newsday: "It's good that [the loss] comes now because we're still in the mix of this." The paper's headline even said that Cribbs was able to see the bright side.

Cribbs was a Cleveland favorite in his years with the Browns, and many fans were disappointed when the team did not re-sign him in the offseason. But he would occasionally find himself in trouble for saying too much. He's available, friendly and over-the-top candid, and as losing wore on him he wore his disgust and frustration on his sleeve -- especially when he discussed his contract status. These kinds of statements are not untypical of him.

The brouhaha led to some interesting back and forth on Twitter, with Browns fans first letting Cribbs know their ... ahem ... thoughts.

Among the tamer comments Cribbs heard:

Which prompted Cribbs to state that he was misquoted:

Which, naturally, brought more ridicule:

Which brought a placid response from Cribbs:

Perhaps from a Cleveland perspective, this guy got it right:

The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

W2W4: Patriots vs. Jets

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
4:00
PM ET
Rex Ryan wanted his players so focused and well-rested for the New England Patriots that he told them to skip household chores for a week. On Sunday, we'll find out if the couch-potato approach worked.

It would help if they could hold on to the ball.

That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.

What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith had a rough first game against the Patriots, going 15-for-35 passing with three picks.
1. A second look for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith should fare better this time around. Then again, it can't get worse than the first meeting in Week 2, when he threw three interceptions in the final 11 plays. His familiarity with the Patriots, coupled with a full week to prepare (Round 1 was on a Thursday), is bound to help. It's all about game management. Smith won't see a lot of pressure schemes from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will test the kid's patience by forcing him to dink and dunk. The Patriots may take a more conservative approach than usual if CB Aqib Talib (hip) doesn't play. Statistically, there's a big drop-off when he's off the field. Talib intercepted Smith twice in the first game.

2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.

3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.

4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.

5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.
One of the best returners in Cleveland Browns history left the team in the offseason.

As it turns out, the Browns may be using a faster, more elusive punt returner -- and in the end he may turn out to be just as good and maybe better than Josh Cribbs. Travis Benjamin has more quickness and pure speed than Cribbs, and when he gets any room to maneuver he is a threat.

Benjamin only returns punts -- he’s too frail to return kickoffs -- but Thursday night in the win over Buffalo he had a 79-yard return for a touchdown and a 57-yard return. Total, he set a team record with 179 yards in returns (the previous record was held by Eric Metcalf, who returned two punts for TDs in a win over Pittsburgh in October 1993).

“Fabulous,” coach Rob Chudzinski said after the game.

[+] EnlargeTravis Benjamin
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesTravis Benjamin is trying to make Browns fans forget about Josh Cribbs.
“Fastest man on the field,” tight end Jordan Cameron said.

All he needs is room to get going. And Bills punter Shawn Powell gave Benjamin room plenty of times. His kicks were long -- 45.5 yards -- but they were low, and he kept outkicking the coverage (sort of like I did with my wife). To the point that Buffalo released Powell the day after the game.

“It’s only a matter of time in this league before you get exposed,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said.

Benjamin has room to grow. He goes through games where he has trouble catching the ball, or does little on returns. He’s also so small that there is a constant risk of being injured.

Too, on the 59-yard return he let Powell shove him out of bounds. The cardinal sin for a returner is being stopped by the punter. Benjamin let it happen on the first, but on the second he ran through the tackle.

The key to any success is consistency, and Benjamin had a strong preseason but averaged just 7.7 yards per return in the first four games.

He provides hope with this game.

Letting Cribbs go was the right decision by the new Browns regime -- even though it was disappointing for the fans, it was time.

Counting on Benjamin was a risk. A year ago he looked small and injury prone and too inconsistent to play on offense. There’s a lot of guys who try to rely on pure speed who don’t succeed in football.

But Benjamin made a statement about his value against the Bills.

He just needs to continue what he started.

Raiders have a long way to go

August, 24, 2013
8/24/13
12:36
PM ET
Here are some non-Terrelle Pryor thoughts on Oakland’s 34-26 home loss to Chicago on Friday:

Oakland clearly has a lot of problems. Its first team was totally manhandled in back-to-back games against the Saints and the Bears. Like last week, Oakland was outclassed on both sides of the ball against the Bears. It was a total domination as Chicago led 27-0 in the second quarter. Last week, New Orleans led Oakland 17-0 in the first quarter.

I’ve always maintained that the preseason means little. But we would be naïve if we didn't look at these lopsided games as a sign of things to come. Oakland is thin on paper, and is playing on the field that way. That type of first-team failure is difficult to deny. Again, it’s not panic time until the games start counting, but does Oakland really look prepared to compete at Indianapolis in 15 days?

Some other thoughts:
  • I think it is particularly worrisome that Oakland is getting dominated when it is on defense. This wasn’t expected to be a high-caliber defense by any stretch, but it was supposed to be better, especially in the back seven. Thus far, the first-unit defense looks overmatched. Again, it doesn’t matter in the preseason, but the Raiders need to get it in gear.
  • Fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson, a quarterback, is becoming a non-factor in Oakland. He didn’t play. Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin continued to work with the third-string. McGloin has thrown bad interceptions in the past two games, but, unlike Wilson, at least he’s getting a chance to play. Whether or not Oakland keeps Wilson will be a big storyline when the 53-man roster is determined in seven days.
  • The race between punters Chris Kluwe and Marquette King continues to be close. I get the feeling Oakland could give King the job based on potential, because he has improved his consistency.
  • Receiver Rod Streater suffered a head injury. It is not known how long he will be out.
  • Seventh-round pick, receiver Brice Butler, a standout in the first half of the preseason, did not have a catch Friday night.
  • None of Oakland’s tight ends separated themselves in the race to be the starter.
  • One of Oakland’s biggest questions, the pass-rush, continues to be an issue. The Raiders didn’t have any sacks against Chicago.
  • Rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden, The No. 12 overall draft pick in April, looked so-so in his debut. He was lost sometimes, and he competed at other times. The most important thing is, he is healthy. It was his first game since having life-threatening heart surgery last November.
  • Returner Josh Cribbs is likely on the bubble. Oakland might have trouble finding a way to keep him.
NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are basically starting over.

In the second year of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era, the team has hit the reset button. The Raiders kept several high-dollar players at start of the post-Al Davis era in 2012 and saw their decade-long malaise continue. Oakland, which has not been to the playoffs since 2002, lost eight of its final nine games last season and finished 4-12.

McKenzie flushed several players in an attempt to get control -- finally -- of a salary cap that got away from the previous regime. The result is that Oakland, which will be in fine salary-cap shape next year, has questions throughout the roster heading into this season.

Yet, Oakland isn’t ready to give up on another season, waiting for better fiscal times. Oakland is beginning the rebuilding process with several players handpicked by McKenzie and Allen.

The theme of these newcomers is the same: “They love football,” Allen said.

Almost every time I’ve heard Allen talk in 2013, he has mentioned the will and desire of his team. Allen doesn’t dwell on the past, but it is clear he didn’t believe some of the players on his first Oakland roster would totally sell out for the game.

McKenzie said it was crucial to get high-character players in the building.

“This is the only way we are going to get this thing going,” McKenzie said. “We need to get guys who want it. I think this team, as a whole, wants it. You need talent but you need high-desire players. Sometimes, that is more important than talent. Now, we have talent, but the key is to find guys who have both. We think we have the kind of guys who can be here when we turn this thing around.”

It is doubtful Oakland will be a factor in the AFC West this season, but it’s all about the building process. Having players whom McKenzie and Allen believe in is a start.

“We have to build a swagger,” Allen said. “This team has to have a vision and a belief that this is going to be a good football team.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The quarterbacks: Like most positions in Oakland, there is flux at the most important position on the field. The Raiders became a mystery at quarterback when Carson Palmer declined a pay cut. With a sudden hole, McKenzie turned to Matt Flynn in a trade with Seattle. Flynn was with McKenzie in Green Bay. He has two NFL starts under his belt, and he is 28. He has been the most consistent of the Oakland quarterbacks this summer, but he is far from dynamic.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Matt Flynn
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatt Flynn, who has started two games in a five-year career, has been the most consistent quarterback for the Raiders this summer.
The Raiders hope he can be a solid game manager and a short-term answer. He must show that in camp. The Raiders also have Terrelle Pryor and rookies Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson. I get the sense that the Raiders have higher, long-term hopes for Wilson, although he has struggled some in camp. If Pryor can find some consistency and Flynn falters, he or McGloin could get a chance. But the same goes for Wilson, a rookie, if there are no better options later in the season. For the immediate future, the Raiders hope Flynn can show he can be an effective starter.

2. Will McFadden have an impact? Running back Darren McFadden has long been Oakland’s best player. The Raiders need him to regain form to ensure this offense can be competitive. If McFadden and the running game don’t take off, there will be immense pressure on Flynn.

McFadden is looking for a bounce-back season. Oakland scrapped the zone-blocking scheme and will employ a power-blocking attack under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson. McFadden has had success in the latter scheme but must remain healthy regardless of scheme. He has missed at least three games in all five of his NFL seasons. If McFadden, who is in his contract year, can play at a high level again, Oakland’s offense will have a fighting chance. This training camp is about getting him prepared to do so.

3. Where’s the pass rush? Defensively, camp is about trying to find a pass rush. Oakland had little pass rush last season, and the team did little to improve in that area in the offseason. The team’s best pass-rushers are veteran Andre Carter and Lamarr Houston. But they are far from elite. Oakland has to find some pass-rushers to emerge in camp, and it also needs improved play in the secondary to help with the pass rush.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The back seven on defense appears to be improved. Oakland may have as many as nine new starters on defense and six in the back seven. Oakland feels better about its overall depth at linebacker and in the secondary.

In fact, I get the sense that the team’s brass is most excited about the linebackers and defensive backs.

The exact linebacker rotation is not clear, but the team is really high on middle linebacker Nick Roach and rookie outside linebacker Sio Moore. Roach has been a leader and has shown high intelligence. Oakland thinks Roach will set the tone for an improved defense. Moore, a third-round pick from Connecticut, has the look of a player who can make an instant impact.

Last season, Oakland’s secondary was one of the worst in the NFL. That doesn’t appear to be the case now.

The cornerbacks are much improved with veterans Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and rookie D.J. Hayden. The addition of safety Charles Woodson gives Oakland hope on the field and in the locker room.

REASON FOR PESSISISM: The roster is not deep, and there are holes and questions all over.

There are some talented players, and some of these young players will emerge. But getting them ready in this camp is daunting.

The key in the NFL is depth. Injuries can occur at an alarming rate. The teams that survive are the teams with the deepest rosters. Oakland doesn’t seem to have a deep roster. McKenzie acknowledges this.

[+] EnlargeOakland's D.J. Hayden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick D.J. Hayden has the want-to attitude his coaches are looking for.
“I can’t afford to get too many injuries,” McKenzie said. “We have to stay healthy. If we do, I think we can be OK. Guys will emerge as camp goes on.”

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Raiders love Hayden’s attitude. The No. 12 overall pick has the type of want-to attitude the team is looking for.
  • Cornerback Taiwan Jones, who switched positions from running back in the offseason, is a long shot. But because he plays so well on special teams, he has a chance to make the 53-man roster.
  • It is no sure thing that wide receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore will be strong starters this year, but both have big potential. Streater, an undrafted fee agent last year, looks particularly comfortable.
  • I love how center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer are looking. These are two of the better young offensive lineman in the game.
  • I get the sense Allen is very pleased with this staff. This group seems like it is working well together.
  • The punting job probably will go down to the wire as Oakland looks to replace Shane Lechler, now in Houston. As expected, veteran Chris Kluwe has shown consistency, but Marquette King has a stronger leg. King has a chance if he can find consistency in the next several weeks.
  • Seventh-round pick and pass-rusher David Bass has shown some nice burst. He has a chance to develop.
  • The tight end position continues to be in flux. The team’s four tight ends are David Ausberry, Richard Gordon and sixth-round picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera. I’d say Ausberry is the favorite to win the job. Still, it is a work in progress.
  • The team likes what it sees in returner Josh Cribbs. He has a great attitude and is a good influence in the locker room.
  • Journeyman offensive lineman Alex Barron has looked good. Once considered a longshot to make the team, Barron has a chance to play a lot.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each AFC West team as training camps get underway:

Denver: Running back, Montee Ball vs. Ronnie Hillman: Hillman is starting training camp as the No. 1 running back. But he will be hard-pressed to keep the job. The plan is for Ball, a second-round pick from Wisconsin, to quickly get ready to take over as the No. 1 back. Denver spent a lot of time grooming him in the offseason, but Ball will have to show he can handle the job in training camp. And he'll need to handle every aspect of being a starting tailback, including picking up blocking schemes. But that goes for Hillman, too. He played some last season and played well in the playoffs. But he is considered more of a change-of-pace guy. So while Hillman gets first crack, I think we will see Ball emerge and Hillman as a backup.Knowshon Moreno will be in the mix early as well, but Denver is going to focus on the youngsters.

Kansas City: Tight end, Tony Moeaki vs. Travis Kelce: The Chiefs’ top tight end this season might be free-agent pickup Anthony Fasano. But the second tight end will get a lot work. Moeaki has a lot of ability, but he has had trouble staying healthy. Kelce is a third-round pick. The new regime really likes him, and he has a chance to get a ton of playing time early. So this will be a solid camp battle. If Moeaki stays healthy, I can see him holding off Kelce, at least, for the short term.

Oakland: Receiver/returner Josh Cribbs vs. Jacoby Ford: I’m not sure this will be an either/or scenario. I think the Raiders would be fine with keeping both players if possible. But Oakland does have several young, intriguing receivers. If the Raiders feel there are some receivers (such as undrafted free agent Conner Vernon) they can’t keep off the 53-man roster, Oakland might only have room for Cribbs or Ford. Not both. Ford has had trouble staying healthy. When healthy, he is a dynamic return man and is better than Cribbs as a receiver. Cribbs is still strong as a returner but is also coming off an injury. It could come down to who is the healthier of the two.

San Diego: Top receivers. The Chargers’ receiving group looks promising, but it is currently difficult to project exactly what the rotation will be. It could shake out in training camp. The top four receivers will likely be Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and rookie Keenan Allen. I think we will see Brown and Alexander as the top receivers once the season starts. Floyd has been a starter, but he might be best as a No. 3 or No. 4 working as a deep threat. Allen will play, but only if he's ready. Alexander was terrific in the second half of last season after he was signed off the street. If he can show he wasn’t a flash in the pan, he could be dynamic. Brown is the key. He looks like he can be a top-notch possession receiver. He showed promise as a rookie but missed all of last season with an ankle injury. Now he's healthy and ready to go. He could be the most productive receiver on this unit.
A day after New York Jets general manager John Idzik said he didn’t think Josh Cribbs was healthy, the aging but dynamic return man has signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Cribbs
The longtime Cleveland receiver/returner nearly signed with Arizona earlier in free agency, but he was recovering from a knee injury. He started visiting teams last week with the Raiders being the first team he visited. He visited three other teams, including the Jets. The fact that Cribbs may not be completely healthy right now is not a huge deal. He will get there.

Oakland will look at Cribbs primarily as a return man. He is tied for the most career kick returns for a touchdown in NFL history with eight. Cribbs, who will turn 30 next month, is primarily a returner. He has had more than 23 catches in a season just once when he had 41 in 2011.

I don’t see this as being a bad signing for Oakland. It’s a low-risk move. If Cribbs still has something in the tank, he can help the team.

It is also insurance in case Jacoby Ford can’t return from a foot injury that kept him out for the 2012 season and for six games in the previous season. Ford and Cribbs are similar players, with Ford giving more in the passing game. But it could come down to keeping either player, especially if some rookie receiver like Brice Butler or Conner Vernon makes a huge push to make the 53-man roster. The team can only keep so many receivers.

So, it could come down to health between Ford and Cribbs.

In other AFC West notes:

Former Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist signed with Baltimore. He tried out for the Chiefs last week.

Wednesday was the last day for Amy Trask in Oakland. She resigned as Raiders CEO four days ago. The team took out a full-page ad in a local paper to thank Trask for her quarter century of service.
An AFC West battle for Charles Woodson is brewing.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported on Tuesday that the future hall of famer is flying to Denver for a visit this week. Later, Anderson reported the Raiders sent Woodson an initial offer. Woodson spent his first eight years in the NFL in Oakland. He knows Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie from their Green Bay days.

The strong safety was cut by Green Bay in March and has received little interest. But it is heating up. Anderson reports Carolina is also involved.

If it comes down to Denver and Oakland, it will be interesting to see what happens. I think the playing time in both places would be about similar. Finances could be an issue, but I don’t see either team offering him too much. Oakland has been very cost-conscious, has been mostly giving out one-year deals, and most of those have been to younger players. I don’t see Oakland breaking the bank to get Woodson.

An advantage Denver might have is it is expected to be a Super Bowl contender, while Oakland isn’t. Oakland could have an advantage because of Woodson's familiarity with McKenzie and the franchise.

If Denver decides it wants to sign Woodson, it could try to finalize a deal during his visit to keep him from considering other offers.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chiefs cut 2012 fifth-round pick, safety DeQuan Menzie. He didn’t play last season. It’s not surprising. Late-round picks from a previous regime usually aren’t safe when the new regime comes in. The Chiefs concentrated on adding to the secondary this offseason.

This ESPN video looks at a possible free-agent fit for the division.

The Jets don’t believe Josh Cribbs is recovered from a knee injury. He has visited with four teams in the past week, including Oakland. It will be interesting to see of the Raiders feel the same way.
The Oakland Raiders are kicking the tires on a now-healthy Josh Cribbs, according to several reports.

The Cleveland free agent nearly signed a deal with Arizona early in free agency. But he wasn’t fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.

I was told that Cribbs had a “great visit” with Oakland, and the Raiders are one of four teams interested in Cribbs. The Raiders’ interest in Cribbs is not a surprise. The Raiders looked at Domenik Hixon earlier in free agency. Like Hixon, Cribbs is a return man and a receiver. Cribbs, who will turn 30 next month, has been a dynamic return man in his career, but he is aging. His highest season reception total came in 2011 when he had 41 catches.

If he signs with Oakland, Cribbs would be insurance for receiver/returner Jacoby Ford, who has been hampered by foot injuries.

In other AFC West notes:

USA Today is reporting the Kansas City Chiefs are considering Jeff Morrow of Carolina and Marvin Allen of the Falcons for their director of college scouting opening. The new regime is adding pieces to the scouting department.

Denver free-agent receiver Matthew Willis recently worked out for New England.

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