As goes Josh Cribbs as a kick returner and punt returner, so go the Browns.
Cribbs returned six kicks for 269 yards and two touchdowns last year in Kansas City when the Browns beat the Chiefs, 43-34. There wasn't much punting in that game, but the four Cribbs did run back he returned 36 yards.
During the rematch last week in Cleveland the Chiefs intentionally kicked away from Cribbs. He returned just one kick, 19 yards. Four other kicks were returned by various teammates a total of 31 yards. Cribbs returned one punt five yards in a 16-14 loss at home.
When Cribbs was a factor, he played a key role. He scored on a 65-yard touchdown pass from Seneca Wallace, but that wasn't enough.
In the season opener the Buccaneers kicked off three times and covered Cribbs with a wide net each time. He totaled 46 yards on three returns with a long of 18 yards. That is a very bad day for Cribbs and the kick return unit.
It was even worse on punt returns. The Bucs punted seven times. Cribbs could return only three for a total of 29 yards. He fumbled on one of the returns. Teammate Blake Costanzo recovered the ball.
"Every unit on this team relies on the other units," Cribbs said. "We try to help each other. When special teams doesn't do well it does affect the game."
Will the Ravens kick away from Cribbs, or will they be macho men and challenge him? Cribbs expects the Ravens to kick to him because if they get too cute and kick the ball out of bounds the Browns would get the ball on the 40.
Last year the Browns special teams finished first in the league when all aspects of the kicking game are computed in a complicated formula. The Browns want to get back to that. They believe to beat the Ravens they must win the special teams battle.
"It comes down to making your block and staying on your block," said Ray Ventrone, a member of the kick return team. "It's pretty much that simple. If we do our job we're going to give Josh some room. We have to be more consistent with our assignments.
"We have the best returner in the league. If we can give him some space, he's going to make plays."
Mangini expects teams to kick away from Cribbs or overload coverage to one side and kick the ball in that direction. He said sometimes that strategy backfires because opponents break from their normal pattern.
BY THE NUMBERS: Seneca Wallace became the 15th quarterback to start for the Browns in 12 years when he opened against the Chiefs. The others are Ty Detmer, Tim Couch, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Luke McCown, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski and Jake Delhomme. Wallace will start against the Ravens if Delhomme doesn't recover from the ankle injury that kept him out of the Kansas City game.
TRENDING: The Browns, 0-2, turned the ball over five times in the first two games. The Buccaneers and Chiefs combined for 17 points from those turnovers.