Coming into this afternoon's game against the Browns, the Ravens knew the one guy they needed to contain wasn't Cleveland's quarterback, running back, or a playmaker in the secondary.
The one player they needed to shut down was Cleveland's kick returner, Josh Cribbs.
Cribbs is the NFL's all-time leader in kickoff returns for touchdowns with eight, is a two-time Pro Bowl special teams player, and is a threat to take the ball to the house any time he gets a returnable kick.
Today, the Ravens held Cribbs to just 47 yards on two kickoff returns (a 23.5-yard average for those of you who aren't math people) and he only had one punt return for zero yards.
"I think our special teams were up against it in this game," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It's easy to forget now that the game is over, and they didn't break anything on us. But that was the best special teams unit in the NFL last year. We aspire to that. We have a bunch of guys here that want to be the best in the league in that phase. And we made a step in that direction, I think, today."
Of place kicker Billy Cundiff's five total kickoffs, four landed in the end zone, and Cribbs decided to take a knee for a touchback three times. Those three kicks all came down at least six yards deep in the end zone.
Sam Koch averaged 49 yards per punt and had two of his three punts land out of bounds, safely away from Cribbs.
"They did a good job kicking the ball and keeping it away from me," Cribbs said. "When he put the kickoff deep in the end zone, I wasn't going to take a chance trying to run it out of the end zone. Our offense was moving the ball well, so it wasn't worth the chance."
"Obviously, we had a goal coming in that we wanted to neutralize Cribbs, and Sam and I both knew that it was going to take a big game from us, putting the ball where they wanted the ball placed," Cundiff said. "As I kind of got into a groove, we started to say, 'Hey, if I can kind of just pound it out of the end zone, let's just do that.' As my wave of confidence continued to grow, we rode that wave and kept on that."
When Cribbs did decide to bring the ball out, he had very little room to work. The Ravens stayed in their gaps, wrapped Cribbs up, and gang-tackled.
"We made a big point on not trying to kill him when we tackle him," linebacker Prescott Burgess said. "Break him down and secure the tackle, because he's very loose out there and he can break tackles. I don't think he broke one tackle. I give up it to our special teams."
Cleveland's average starting field position on the day was the 23-yard-line, which is not anywhere close to where they wanted it. For a team that relies so much on the kicking game and was without a number of their starters on offense, they needed a shorter field to put together consistent offense.
"We consider ourselves the No. 1 unit," wide receiver Marcus Smith said. "Coming into this week we weren't playing that way. They're the No. 1 team. We just took it as a challenge where you have to go against the best to be the best. We couldn't come out half-stepping knowing we had a dangerous returner back there in all phases.
"We set the tempo. We knew if we controlled that one third it makes them less dynamic as a team."