Tuesday, December 18

About Joshua Cribbs

During his eight seasons as a member of the Cleveland Browns, special teams ace Joshua Cribbs has established himself as one of the Browns' most popular players on and off the field. Even during some lean years for the club, Cribbs managed to make Browns games a little more watchable, accounting for many of the team's finest plays, and of course starring in the comically immortal Josh's Cribbs. His tenure was marred a little bit by post-2009 contract tension and the occasional frustrated outburst, but otherwise it's been fun.

Yet in recent years, his production seems to have tapered a bit, in part due to some nagging injuries, and fans have cooled on Cribbs a bit. On a day where Cribbs might be playing his final home game as a Brown, I'd like to look back a bit on his career and discuss the current persepective on Cribbs with respect to its accuracy and what it says about modern fandom.

First, the highlights. On his way to being named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000's (the only Brown so honored), Cribbs tied the NFL's all-time record for kick returns for TD with eight (along with Leon Washington), and set basically every return record for the Browns:

Most career Kickoff return yards (8,837)
Most career combined Kickoff and Punt return yards (10,534)
Most career All-purpose yards (12,343)
Most kickoff return yards in a single season: 1,809 (2007)
Most kickoff return touchdowns in a single season: 3 (2009)
Most All-purpose yards in a single season: 2,510 (2009)
Most career combined Kickoff and Punt return touchdowns (11)

Cribbs was and is a force on the flipside of the return game as well - there were a couple of seasons where it seemed like he made every single special-teams tackle for Cleveland, and still does a fine job on kick coverage. Offensively, he never really developed into a starting-caliber wideout, but between his work as a receiver and running the ball on Wildcat and reverse plays, Cribbs has still amassed nearly 2000 yards from scrimmage and 9 touchdowns as an offensive player. Cribbs also saved some of his best moments for games against the hated rival steelers, including two 90+ yard returns in one game against the evildoers from Pittsburgh and some huge plays in the frigid home win in the winter of 2009.

He's also the reigning Mr. Cleveland, despite an impressive audition thus far from Mr. Joe Haden. Cribbs is everywhere, at Cavs games, United Way billboards, television shows, concerts - embracing the city and serving as the public face for a team that has been remarkably faceless in the 14 seasons since returning to the NFL. A little bit of that goes a long way.

Still, I can't help but feel like a lot of fans have soured on him, particularly on the Twitter and in some of the notoriously pessimistic local sportsosphere. Admittedly, Cribbs is less of a home run threat than he used to be - he hasn't taken a kick to the house since 2009, and has only one punt return for TD in the past three years (2010). He's been mostly phased out of the offense this season, as well.

A look at the numbers, however, shows that reports of Cribbs' demise are premature. Last season was his most productive as a WR, with 518 yards receiving and four TD's (both easily career highs), though his days as a Wildcat back have diminshed substantially since 2009 (notwithstanding a solid run in today's contest setting up the Browns' 2nd TD). This season, despite not having taken a kick all the way, Cribbs still ranks 7th in the NFL yards per kick return and 5th in yards per punt return. That's not so bad, eh?

Nevertheless, Cribbs has been called on the carpet by some fans, probably because of his diminished value as an offensive player, the occasional fumble, and the ongoing drought in kick return touchdowns. That I can understand without necessarily agreeing with, but what I don't care for is fans criticizing other fans for supporting Cribbs. Why do fans do that? Why would a fans criticize fellow fans of their favorite team for liking a player who plays on their team? It's strange. I still really enjoy Cribbs' playing, kick return touchdowns or no, and want him to do well, as I do every player on the team.

Someone recently twittered something to the effect of "it's sad how much this town still supports Cribbs," and frankly I don't see why this is worth criticizing a fan for. I mean, it's not like my support for #16 hurts the team in any way. I know we all root for laundry, and that the Cleveland Browns as a team and a franchise is the focal point, but isn't it OK to still have favorite players? I like having characters to root for in addition to jerseys, and it doesn't hurt when the character in question has been one of the Browns' most exciting players over the past decade. Even if Cribbs isn't as likely to break one long as he used to, I still plan to sport my #16 jersey as long as he's on the team, and hope that just maybe he'll pop one more for us.

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