The Cleveland Browns' special teams unit has definitely taken a big step backwards this year in pretty much all facets. That includes the punt return game, where the Browns rank 21st in the league. It's tough to say whether the lack of a spark in the return game is Joshua Cribbs' fault, the fault the of the players blocking in front of him, or a combination of both. Personally, it has seemed as though Cribbs is not as quick to make his decisions as he used to and he hasn't been able to make defenders miss either.
The truth is that Cribbs never really made his mark as a punt returner, but rather as a kickoff returner. Many teams in the NFL keep those duties separate; in fact, when Cribbs first arrived, he only handled kickoffs because Dennis Northcutt was still the punt returner. Cribbs is great, but he doesn't compare to Northcutt when it comes to punt returns.
When Jordan Norwood had to fill in for Cribbs this past Thursday against the Steelers, I loved the shiftiness that he brought to the table. His first return went for 13 yards, and his second one went for 14 yards. I wouldn't say that either play had gimmie yards on the table, and I imagine that this year's Cribbs would've gotten less production on those returns. Norwood showed the risk of playing him though on two of his returns; he muffed (but recovered) the ball on his second return, and he didn't call a fair catch on another return and basically got hammered as soon as he caught it. You have to learn some time though -- when Cribbs first took on punt return duties, he looked very awkward at receiving the punts. Now he looks like a pro when it comes to fielding them.
With Norwood's potential as a punt returner, should a decision be made to allow him to return punts over Cribbs? I think it would be the right coaching decision, but I think it would also piss off Cribbs royally. The guy is already upset about how he's being used on offense.
What do you think?