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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening
Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Dolphins-Browns game:
Browns RS Joshua Cribbs vs. Dolphins PK Dan Carpenter, P Brandon Fields and Miami's return units
Cribbs earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after he was one of the catalysts for Cleveland's 27-19 win at Indianapolis last Sunday. His two longest returns — a 52-yard kickoff return in the second quarter and a 43-yard punt return in the fourth quarter — set up Browns' touchdowns.
The previous week, Cribbs was nearly as productive. With the Browns trailing 13-0 in the second quarter, Cribbs' 51-yard kickoff return helped spark a Cleveland comeback. The Browns followed that with their first touchdown of the game and eventually took a 17-13 lead. With Cleveland later trailing 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, Cribbs broke a promising 21-yard punt return that could have been a much longer gain if not for WR Greg Little accidentally crashing into Cribbs after delivering a booming block on Bengals P Kevin Huber.
Cribbs didn't get an abundance of optimal return opportunities a season ago, and he suffered a concussion and injured toes. This season, he's back in top form. He made Indianapolis pay dearly for kicking to him, and he nearly did the same vs. Cincinnati. He's yet to return a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season, but he's knocking on the door.
Whether the Dolphins can limit Cribbs' return chances could be one of the keys to the game, considering how well he's played. PK Dan Carpenter's longest kickoff this season was a 74-yarder vs. Houston, which was returned for 34 yards. A 71-yarder was returned 43 yards by Houston's Danieal Manning, a good returner in his own right. In the season opener vs. New England, Carpenter's longest kickoff traveled 71 yards, with the longest Patriots return 37 yards.
Dolphins P Brandon Fields has a strong leg; six of his nine punts have been 50 yards or longer, including a 70-yarder vs. Houston. But about that 70-yarder: the Texans' Jacoby Jones caught it with the nearest Dolphin almost 30 yards away. By the time Jones was able to gather himself and start moving forward, the Dolphins' coverage unit had started to close in, but Jones was able to get past the first wave of defenders, and he wasn't stopped until he had notched a 40-yard return.
For the record, Fields' other punts vs. Houston were very good — a 50-yarder produced no return, and a 61-yarder netted 65 yards after a four-yard loss on the return. However, if the Dolphins are pinned deep and Fields (who's had 8-of-10 punts returned) has to let it fly, the Browns will likely get a chance to set up a return. Then it will be on Miami's coverage units to bring down one of the game's return aces.