December 17, 2014

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Browns’ Chudzinski keeps opposing defenses guessing

BEREA — Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is making life miserable for opposing defensive coordinators.
Not only does Chudzinski have the fifth-ranked scoring offense (27.7 points) and possible Pro Bowlers in receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow, he expands the playbook almost on a weekly basis.
The season began with an emphasis on the passing game. Running back Jamal Lewis assumed a larger role as the season crept toward the stretch run. And last week, receiver Joshua Cribbs saw his most extensive action of the season on offense and backup running back Jerome Harrison was taken off the shelf for a couple of important runs.
It should be enough to keep Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell up at night.
“It gives teams more to remember,” Cribbs said Friday. “However we can make it difficult for an opponent, it’s good.”
“It makes them have to address (Cribbs and Harrison) in terms of their game planning,” Chudzinski said. “You like having roles for guys that they can execute well. That’s my job.”
Until last week, kick returner extraordinaire Cribbs was used almost exclusively on offense on trick plays, or to give the appearance of a trick play. He had a catch in the opener, then not another until Sunday vs. the Jets. He has one rush in nine games for 61 yards, a 6.8 average.
But Sunday he took an extended turn in a receiver rotation with Joe Jurevicius and Tim Carter. With Jurevicius questionable for the Bills game Sunday with a knee injury, Cribbs may be called upon again.
“That’s the natural progression of the season,” Chudzinski said. “We don’t have a lot of receivers, so trying to keep guys fresh is going to be a key for us.”
Cribbs responded with a rush for 4 yards and a catch for 18, after which he was belted by safety Kerry Rhodes. Cribbs got up a little wobbly, while Rhodes had to leave the game for a stretch.
“That shows how tough I am,” Cribbs said. “Now they’re going to try to hit me even harder and take time to think about that.
“Instead of preparing for (Winslow and Edwards), they’re going to be saying my name. Whatever I can do to mix things up a bit.”
Harrison was active vs. the Jets for just the sixth time this season, and it was only the third time he got a carry. He took advantage of back-to-back attempts in the fourth quarter with 17 and 4 yards. He proved a nice complement to Lewis, who carried 21 times for 118 yards.
But Harrison said it’s too soon for defenses to worry about him.
“They might look over it for a quick second and say he’s a change-of-pace back,” he said. “I don’t think I put too much pressure on them yet.
“This offense is pretty talented. We have young, talented athletes blessed with gifts. (Chudzinski’s) letting everybody touch the ball.”
That’s easier said than done, especially when dealing with stars who expect the ball. Winslow, Edwards and Lewis fall into that category.
“If you start to worry too much about that, then you lose out on what you really need to do,” Chudzinski said. “It’s about winning and that’s the No. 1 thing. I think the guys understand that. There’s going to be days when one of them doesn’t do too much on that particular day and there are some days they’ll have great days, from an individual standpoint. Winning is the ultimate goal. If you start to think otherwise and start trying to work around that, that’s when you’ll lose that No. 1 goal.”
Chudzinski, in his first full year as an NFL coordinator, has the Browns ranked ninth in total offense (352.2 yards per game). The last time Cleveland finished in the top 10 was 1987, when it was ninth. It was fourth in 1981.
The Browns are also on pace for 443 points, which would best the franchise mark of 415 in 1964.
“He’s a great offensive coordinator,” Cribbs said. “He’s able to help us move the ball down the field. There’s a big difference from last year.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.