Josh Cribbs is upset with the new rules regarding NFL kickoffs. Moving the kickoff spot five yards is sure to take elite return men out of the game. The truth is that the next Josh Cribbs might never come to light as a game-changing force in the NFL. Devin Hester either. That’s just the nature of the beast though. The game is forever evolving. That’s why you can’t really worry about it. Granted Josh Cribbs got hurt this season. Even without rule changes, teams found ways to keep Cribbs from killing them.
Obviously a lot of people will look at the rules changes that removed the ability to wedge with more than two people on kickoff returns and think that had a giant effect. Check this out, though. In 2009 there were 2,004 kickoff returns attempted. Those attempts went for 45,334 yards or a 22.6 yard average. In 2010, there were 2,033 attempts that went for 45, 420 yards, or a 22.34 yard average. Not a whole lot of difference, right?
Let’s look at Cleveland specifically. In 2009 when Josh Cribbs was healthy the Browns ranked fifth in the league in terms of average with 24 yards per return. Their long was 103 yards and there were 3 kickoffs returned for touchdowns. In 2010 because the Browns had been so good, they ranked dead last in the league in terms of average at 17 yards per return. You will remember that teams kicked short and away from Cribbs frustrating him and the Browns’ special teams unit.
In the first game against Tampa, Cribbs had three attempts for 46 yards and Marcus Benard had one attempt for 11 yards as the Bucs played keep-away. Same thing in the second game against KC. Cribbs had one attempt for 19 yards as Jerome Harrison caught two, James Davis and Lawrence Vickers each caught one. This is well before the team was particularly banged up as a return unit, let alone Cribbs himself.
I understand why Josh Cribbs is upset about the rule changes. He thinks the NFL is pretending to care about player safety as they marginalize one of his skills. In the end, to an extent he is right. There will be a lot more touchbacks and much fewer returns. That takes a very exciting play off the table on Sundays. For all practical purposes the Browns created such a name for themselves in the return game in 2009 that it had already been taken away by 2010 anyway. Even without rule changes, the league found a way to take that returns away from Cribbs.
I can understand why he is upset. Maybe he should just feel lucky that he was around before the rules of the game changed.