HOME RUN THREAT

Indianapolis has faced two of the game’s most potent returners already this year in Chicago’s Devin Hester and Minnesota’s Percy Harvin. The next test up is every bit as stern, perhaps more – Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs. The owner of 11 career scoring returns, Indianapolis must guard against another home run threat.

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INDIANAPOLIS –Last week, Cleveland earned its first win of the season, a 34-24 decision over divisional foe Cincinnati.

Though others were mentioned prominently in game-related stories, trained eyes saw where damage occurred.

Returner Joshua Cribbs had a 60-yard punt return to set up a field goal, and he had a 44-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown.  Opponents have found out it is all in a day's work for the undrafted free agent from Kent State.

Colts Special Teams Coach Marwan Maalouf likely circled Sunday's date in red when the schedule came out just because of Cribbs.  Maalouf was on hand in Cleveland when Cribbs was signed as an undrafted free agent from Kent State in 2005.

Now, Maalouf and his band of special teams performers have their hands full on Sunday.

"There isn't one thing he can't do.  He's elusive.  He has great balance, strength.  He has everything you look for in a returner," said Maalouf.  "We have a huge task to get as many hats on him as possible.  That's the only way you're going to be able to bring him down.  Arm tackles, those aren't going to cut it with him. 

"I've known him since his rookie year.  I was there in Cleveland when they signed him.  He's had a history of being a very good and elusive returner."

Since 2011, Cribbs has had nine kick returns (six kickoff, three punt) exceeding 40 or more yards.  Each one of those returns led to Cleveland scores.

Against the Colts, Cribbs has a 28.2 career kickoff return average and a 26.0 punt return average.  Juicing those averages were bursts he made when the teams met last September in Indianapolis.  Cribbs had a 43-yard punt return and a 52-yard kickoff return. 

The second-quarter kickoff return helped put Cleveland ahead for the first time, while the other return set up a touchdown that gave the Browns a 24-12 fourth-quarter lead on the way to a 27-19 win.

Cribbs has 11 returns for touchdowns, with his eight via kickoffs setting the NFL record, one more than Leon Washington.  With two in one game against Kansas City in 2009, Cribbs became the ninth NFL player ever to do so.

"We've been through the gantlet already this season with Devin Hester and Percy Harvin and some of those guys," said Maalouf.  "Right now, statistically I think Cribbs is third on kickoff returns and second on punt returns. 

"He's the complete package right now.  He's someone, in my book, who is probably the top returner in the league."

The versatile performer has 14 punt returns this season for a 15.4 average, good for second in the NFL.  Cribbs sports a 31.3 average on 20 kickoff returns, topping the conference and ranking second in the league.

Three times in his career, Cribbs' scoring kickoff returns have been 100 yards or longer.  His scoring punt returns covered 67, 76 and 84 yards.  Is there a time Cribbs is not thinking about end zone as he fields a kick?

"No, are you kidding me?  You have to assume he's going to take the ball the distance every time, every time," said Maalouf.  "Even when they're backed up in pooch territory and the opponent is kicking from midfield, we always have to believe he's going to take it out.  That's what he's done in the past, too."

Joe Lefeged has been one of the league's best special teamers this year.  The second-year pro got an eyeful of Cribbs in last year's game.  Now a seasoned pro himself with a team-leading eight special teams stops, Lefeged will be ready for the challenge Cribbs presents.

"He an all-around football player.  He does a lot of things on their special teams, as well as on the offense," said Lefeged.  "They'll try any way they can to get him the football.  As a returner, he's strong.  One guy is not going to bring him down. 

"We have our hands full this week doing everything we can to bring him down."

Cribbs has totaled 20 career touchdowns – two rushing and seven receiving to go along with his 11 special teams gems.  He has but one rush and four receptions in 2012, but is a threat every time he steps on the field.

Cribbs has a combined return yardage total of 11,375, sixth in league history.  Only seven players in NFL history ever have combined to top 10,000 yards.  Lefeged knows Cribbs has a special standing.

"We played some pretty good returners this year already.  I think he still is one of the top three or four returners in the NFL," said Lefeged.

Maalouf and the special teams are judged by brief moments on the field, yet the potential yardage involved in each of those plays can sway a game in the blink of an eye.  He had no trouble having the attention of his charges this week as they prepared for Cribbs.

"No, not at all.  It's a big task," said Maalouf.  "Hopefully, they'll rise to the challenge."

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