When they tee it up against the Cleveland Browns today, the Raiders intend to kick to record-setting return man Josh Cribbs. Not only that, they're telling the world! Oakland punter Shane Lechler(notes), who's probably the best at his position in the game, admitted that as a return man, Cribbs is probably "the best we've faced -- ever -- in my 10 years here." And the last time Cribbs got a ball kicked to him by the Raiders, he returned a kickoff 99 yards. The Raiders aren't going on that experience, though. They're counting on a repeat performance of the shutdown they put on Devin Hester(notes) in Week 10 of the 2007 season, when Hester returned six punts for 14 yards.
"We're going to do exactly what we did to Hester, what we did to Dante Hall(notes) four years ago when he was at Kansas City," Lechler told the media. "When you (kick away from a returner), it goes to show that you don't trust your guys. I'm willing to put my guys up against anybody. I like my guys. My punt team is outstanding; they play their butt off every Sunday."
Well sure, but against Cribbs? Really? We all know what the former Kent State quarterback did to the Chiefs last week, returning kickoffs for touchdowns of 100 and 103 yards and setting the all-time kick return touchdown mark with eight. Now, Lechler has reason to be confident -- the Raiders lead the universe in punting DVOA -- but Oakland is decidedly below-average when defending kickoff returns. Only the Carolina Panthers have allowed more yards per kick return than Oakland's 25.0. And that's with a relatively small sample size; the Raiders have only kicked off 35 times this season (worst in the league), which tends to happen when your offense isn't any good. Cribbs is bigger and better than Hester, and he's ready to embarrass any team dumb enough to challenge him.
"I love it when (the other team) is in my face because that means once I get past the first window, the first couple of guys, then I'm out in the open," Cribbs said this week. "You know, get past that first wave, chances are really high for me to take it to the end zone."
You hear that, Raiders?
- Josh Cribbs