Analysis: Josh Cribbs provides spark the Browns needed

INDIANAPOLIS - When the Cleveland Browns needed a spark, Josh Cribbs knew what to do.

For the second straight week, Cribbs provided a big kickoff return with the Browns trailing and the offense struggling. His 52-yard return set up the Browns first touchdown, and gave them a lead they would never relinquish on the way to a 27-19 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

"I love being the spark on this football team whenever I can," Cribbs said. "That's my role."

Cribbs came up with another big play later in the game. With the Browns clinging to a 5-point lead in the fourth quarter, he returned a punt to the Colts 28-yard line, setting up Cleveland's final touchdown to put the game out of reach.

"When I was going out there to catch the punt return, coach Shurmur looked at me and said, 'we need a play,'" Cribbs said. "When the head coach looks at you and says they need a play, you've got to give them a play."

Cribbs also took a more active role in the passing game on Sunday. The Browns utilized Cribbs with targeted wide receiver screens, and he caught three passes for 41 yards.

"I just want the ball in my hands," Cribbs said. "If they do that as receiver, so be it. If they do it out of the backfield, so be it."

After a disappointing 2010 campaign where Cribbs was hobbled by injuries, he has come back rejuvenated in the first two games this year. Cribbs longest return last season was 34 yards, and he already has two kickoff returns of over 50 yards.

Those big kickoff returns against the Colts and the Bengals gave Cleveland great starting field position on the drives and each set the Browns up for their first touchdown scores of the game.

Cribbs early-season success does come as somewhat of a surprise, given the changes to the kickoff rules made in the off-season. In an effort to cut down on some of the high-impact collisions that occur on kickoffs, the NFL decided to move the ball up five yards, making for longer returns and more touchbacks.

Many special teams players—including Cribbs—complained about the changes, but the new rules have done little to eliminate his contributions.

"I'm thirsty for the football," Cribbs said. "It was a long off-season."

Running back Peyton Hillis established himself Sunday, carrying 27 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns, including a 24-yard carry in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

A week after throwing the ball 40 times, the Browns made a commitment to pounding the ball on the ground, and the offensive attack was much more balanced. Cleveland ran the ball 34 times, and passed it 32, allowing Hillis to wear down the Colts defense before delivering the final blow.

"Peyton (Hillis) ran the ball hard," quarterback Colt McCoy said.

The Colts defense is traditionally weak against the rush, so Hillis was expected to play a big part in Sunday's contest. Even when he took a while to get going, the Browns never strayed from their commitment to pounding the ball on the ground.

"We have a lot of confidence in Peyton," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "He's going to break one because defenses don't like to see his style of running. He's going to run downhill and run over people and in the fourth quarter, they're going to be tired and he's going to be running away into the end zone."

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