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Browns receiver Josh Cribbs has had many happy returns against the Steelers, but will have to take it up a notch if he's going to break one Sunday.


Three of his NFL record eight kickoff returns for touchdowns have come against the Steelers -- which is tied for an NFL record against a single opponent. One of those was a 98-yarder last October in Pittsburgh.


But this season, with teams kicking away from him and pop-kicking, Cribbs has mostly been a non-factor in the return game. He is ranked 51st in the NFL with a 20.2-yard average -- a far cry from the 27.5-yard average he finished with last season for No. 3 in the NFL.


"I have to pick up my return yardage and try to help this football team in the return game, and I have yet to do that," he said. "Teams will continue to pop-kick it until we get it out to the 40 all the time or across the 50. Until we do that, they're going to pop-kick it rather than give me a chance to run it back for a touchdown. The whole unit needs to improve, myself included."


Cribbs, whose longest return is 24 yards against the Falcons, has been limited with an ankle injury this season and is listed as probable for the Steelers, but has refused to use that as an excuse. Clearly, coach Eric Mangini expects him to come through.


"There were some kicks that Cribbs returned last year that the blocking wasn't exactly stellar, he just sort of made it look better, so that becomes a component of it," said Mangini. "We're trying to get that group as tight as we possibly can, and they work hard. It's important to them, and everybody understands what a weapon he is and it's important to Josh. There's a commitment and we're going to continue to improve it.


"Teams are doing a lot of things to prevent us from doing the things that we want to do and we're trying to respond and hurt them enough when they do those things so that they have to make a decision. Last year, there was improvement throughout the season. Josh has made people miss that two guys don't block, that three guys don't block, and he makes them miss so it's a combination."


If Cribbs can't hurt the Steelers on returns, he hopes to in the WildDawg. In the 13-6 Browns victory last December, he ran eight times for 87 out of the formation.


"They just couldn't stop it," said Cribbs. "Our guys were blocking up front pretty good, and we executed better than they did. When teams execute better, it shows. They're going to be prepared to try to stop it and we'll go at it until they will."


He said he expects to see plenty of the WildDawg, especially with rookie Colt McCoy starting at quarterback.


"Definitely. It'll take a lot of pressure off him," said Cribbs.


Thomas on Harrison: Left tackle Joe Thomas struggled against Atlanta's John Abraham last week, and will face the Steelers' James Harrison this week, who is leading the team with three sacks and three forced fumbles.


"For the most part, I've got to just give the guy credit," said Thomas. "He had a lot of one-on-one battles with me and he made the most of them. Anytime I get beat in a game it's frustrating to me and I go back and I try to fix it. What I don't want to do is change everything I'm doing just because of a couple bad plays in a game against an outstanding pass rusher."


He said the game wouldn't affect his confidence.


"Everybody in this league gets beat," he said. "I've seen Walter Jones, who I think is the best lineman ever, give up two sacks in a game and he bounces back from it. It's only if you kind of dwell on it and act like you're the only guy in America who's ever given up a sack."


Said Mangini: "My feeling about Joe is that he'll do a great job this week. It's not just James Harrison, he'll get a combination of rushers over there and they're all going to be good and I expect that he'll do a great job."


Benard fined: Linebacker Marcus Benard, who leads the Browns with 3.5 sacks, was fined $5,000 by the NFL this week for roughing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, specifically for striking him late.


McCoy's the man: Even though Mangini hasn't officially declared McCoy the starter, it's been common knowledge all week, and a source confirmed that. Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are doubtful with high ankle sprains, and both wore walking boots in the locker room.


Dawson can be No. 1: Phil Dawson needs one field goal to break the mark of 234 held by him and Hall of Famer Lou Groza for the Browns' record.


"Phil's done a great job, and I really like Phil," said Mangini. "The things that he's done as a Cleveland Brown have been exceptional. I'm looking forward to him breaking the record here this weekend. I want all touchdowns but a field goal mixed in, game-winner would be a nice way to break the record."


Smith doubtful: Defensive end Robaire Smith is doubtful with a back injury, and right tackle John St. Clair is doubtful with an ankle injury. Five players besides running back Peyton Hillis are questionable: defensive linemen Kenyon Coleman (knee) and Shaun Rogers (elbow), tight end Robert Royal, safety Nick Sorensen (calf) and right guard Floyd Womack (knee).


Center Alex Mack (shoulder), Thomas (shin), Cribbs (ankle) and defensive back Abe Elam (knee) are probable.

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