One of the few negatives of the Ravens' 37-27 win over the Cleveland Browns last week was their kick coverage – or more pointedly, their coverage of return ace Joshua Cribbs.
The Pro Bowler knifed through Baltimore's special teams units for 237 total return yardage, including an electric 92-yard touchdown.
That kickoff return was a game-changing moment. The Ravens had just scored on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Mark Clayton for a 10-point lead. But Cribbs let Baltimore know his team was still in the game when he zig-zagged down the field, breaking several tackles en route to the end zone.
The Ravens knew what they were facing and tried to boot it away from Cribbs all game. However, his range was simply too vast.
"I don't know if you noticed or not, but those mortar kicks that were going left and right were kicks that were designed to get in the hands of the wedge," head coach John Harbaugh told the media Monday. "He [still] goes and gets them in a windy stadium."
Winds in Cleveland Browns Stadium were unpredictable, blowing anywhere from 8 to 16 mph all day. Matt Stover only achieved once touchback, which came in the third quarter.
"Matt showed him a mortar look and then drove the ball deep over his head, which was a good change up," Harbaugh said. "We were trying to get the ball away from him, but on kickoffs you're not allowed to kick it out of bounds. He can go sideline to sideline and catch the ball, and that's what he did and he did a great job."
Cribbs also had a key 32-yard punt return in the second half that set up a 28-yard touchdown pass to Cleveland wideout Braylon Edwards on the following play.
The Ravens' main weapon in corralling Cribbs was linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is a two-time Pro Bowl special teamer.
Ayanbadejo led Baltimore with three special teams stops, the most important of which came in the fourth quarter. The score was knotted at 27, and Ayanbadejo dropped Cribbs on a punt return for no gain on the Browns' 16-yard line.
Cleveland went three-and-out on the ensuing series, and the Ravens were able to use that sound field position – and a Ray Rice 60-yard run – to march to Matt Stover's 22-yard field goal and the lead.
"[Cribbs'] big thing is he's never going to let one guy take him down," said Ayanbadejo, who leads the Ravens with 14 special teams stops. "You're playing the game with heightened awareness. You have to. Everything has to be on full go. That guy can do anything."
Heading to Houston this weekend to face a duo of explosive returners, the Ravens will have to be at their best. Jacoby Jones handled the punts and has returned two for touchdowns this season, while Andre Davis averages 22.2 yards per kickoff return.
Heap Helps the Run
Todd Heap was flagged for two false start penalties against the Browns, but Harbaugh praised the tight end for his contributions to Baltimore's rushing attack.
The Ravens tallied 193 yards on the ground, including a career-high 154 from rookie Ray Rice.
"I'm sure that's a couple of plays he'll want back," stated Harbaugh. "He got a little anxious on some of those blocks. He had some tough blocks. Throughout the course of the game he blocked really well. I'm a little surprised that he's as good of a blocker as he is, not knowing him throughout his career.
"He's got the reputation of being a pass-receiving tight end. Everybody wants to see him catch more balls, and we want to see him catch more balls, and he will. But gosh, he's a physical football player in there blocking, and that's a good thing to see."
Heap currently has 13 receptions for 137 yards and a long of 17 yards on the season.
The Ravens travel to Reliant Stadium this weekend for Houston's fifth home game in the past six weeks. The Texans are 14-7 at home under head coach Gary Kubiak. … The Ravens re-signed quarterback Todd Bouman and added safety Daren Stone. Stone, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. He saw action in 12 games as a rookie, totaling two tackles and eight special teams stops. Cornerback Anwar Phillips was relegated to the practice squad. … Wideout Ernie Wheelwright was waived.