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Rams-Browns matchup of the day: Wednesday

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Posted Nov. 09, 2011 @ 3:42 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Rams-Browns game: 

Rams coverage units vs. Browns RS Joshua Cribbs

The Texans kicked off to Cribbs twice on Sunday. On the first return, he gained 31 yards. On the second return, Cribbs started left, cut back to his right and broke free for 63 yards. Though Cribbs was penalized for a facemask penalty on the play, the Browns were able to capitalize with their first points of the game, cutting Houston's lead to 14-3 with 3:48 left in the first quarter.

Not surprisingly, the Texans declined to kick off to Cribbs again. None of PK Neil Rackers' next four kickoffs went longer than 50 yards, leaving other Browns further upfield to make the catch. FB Owen Marecic returned three of the kicks, with DB Mike Adams taking the other.

The Texans were more than happy to kick short rather than deal with Cribbs.

Said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak: "(We) kicked it to him the first two times, and I said, 'That's it' after I saw that. He is something. So we had a plan for the rest of the game to keep it out of his hands and did a good job of that."

Cribbs is an exceptionally gifted returner, possessing a wonderful combination of strength, vision and speed. It is safe to assume he scares the opposition more than any other Browns player. It wouldn't be surprising if the Rams took a page from the Texans and simply didn't bother with kicking to Cribbs, preferring to punch the ball short. It's a calculated risk — a shorter kickoff can lead to better field position for the opposition — but the Browns' sputtering offense takes some of the fear of the downside of such a strategy.

Rams PK Josh Brown has a relatively strong leg. He has forced touchbacks on 9-of-27 kickoffs, with Rams opponents averaging 22.4 yards on 18 returns.

Rams P Donnie Jones (37.9-yard net average, 51 punts) has been one of the NFC's best performers at his position in recent seasons. The Rams, however, did surrender a 99-yard punt-return TD to the Cardinals' spectacular Patrick Peterson for the game-winning score in a 19-13 overtime defeat at Arizona on Sunday. While the Rams' coverage on the play left something to be desired, Jones did get good hang time on the punt, which Peterson fielded on his own 1-yard-line. And Peterson simply has rare talent. He can break more tackles than the average returner, and he has the speed to break away from the competition. 

In short, Peterson can make plays other returners can't.

Sounds a lot like Joshua Cribbs, doesn't it?

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