Nov 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Cribbs (16) returns a punt during the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts defeated the Jaguars 23-3. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
Entering last weekend’s game, there were many question marks surrounding recently signed Indianapolis Colts special teams returnman Josh Cribbs. Many wondered just how much gas, the now 31 year old had left in his tank. While he had a decorated career as a returnman with the Cleveland Browns, Cribbs hadn’t played in an NFL game since December 1, 2013, when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury while with the New York Jets.
His time with the Cleveland Browns now seems like a distant memory. Something that ended only 2 years ago somehow feels like eons ago. A nostalgic time in the NFL where special teams returnman like Cribbs and the Bears’ Devin Hester ran wild and dominated the special teams landscape with dazzling returns. However, after his performance Sunday, Josh Cribbs looked like the same old Josh Cribbs. A scary thought.
Perhaps, the Colts have caught lightning in a bottle with Cribbs, as he was simply electric on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, even despite his heroics, Cribbs believes his best is still yet to come:
"“I still wasn’t even at my best; I’m still getting my sea legs, so to speak, back underneath me,” Cribbs said. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but you just got a preview of how good we are even when we’re not at our best. I was stumbling all over the place and still got into the end zone. That just goes to show how well the guys are blocking up front for me.”"
It’s hard to forget that Cribbs was a 3x Pro Bowler, 2x First-Team All-Pro, and on the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team. That he’s tied for the NFL’s all-time kick return touchdowns mark at 8 TD’s and 3rd in NFL history in kick return yardage with now 10,569 kick return yards under his belt.
Nov 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts safety Josh Cribbs (16) prepares to catch the opening kickoff against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
In his two kick returns on Sunday, Cribbs averaged 32.0 yards per return. At his current pace, that’s +6.7 yards more per return than the Colts’ prior returnman he effectively replaced in Griff Whalen and would place him 1st in the NFL overall, ahead of the league leader in the Bengals’ Adam “Pacman” Jones, who averages 31.8 yards per return.
If not for an unnecessary, unnecessary roughness penalty on Colts’ cornerback, Josh Gordy, he also would’ve had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown added to his resume that was called back. As it stands, Cribbs had a 9.8 yards per punt return average on Sunday, which would tie him for 7th in the NFL overall. For comparison purposes, Whalen averaged 7.2 yards per punt return on 15 returns, placing him at 19th overall.
According to the advanced stats provided by ProFootballFocus, Cribbs had a +2.4 rating overall handling both kick and punt returns, which would place him 2nd overall in Week 12 just behind the Cowboys’ Dwayne Harris at first (+2.5).
If he can keep up the torrid pace he set in Week 12, Cribbs will have been a great find for Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson and this team. Sunday’s performance was an indication that he can be an electrifying returnman and add a big-play element that the Colts previously didn’t possess on special teams. Look out league, he could make what was already an elite special teams unit led by Pat McAfee, even more special.