OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after their highest point total on the road all season, the Ravens finally decided they needed to go in a new direction Monday by firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Discussion will continue over the circumstances and motivation behind dismissing the long-maligned assistant with three games remaining in the regular season, but coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens will now entrust quarterbacks coach and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell to do what Cameron was unable to accomplish — regardless of who was to blame — in guiding an up-and-down offense during the 2012 season. At times, the unit has looked as good as any in the league, particularly when playing at M&T Bank Stadium. Other times, the offense has looked as inept as the worst attacks in the NFL.
In the Ravens’ eyes, Cameron wasn’t going to figure it out, so they decided to hand the reins to Caldwell with hopes of salvaging what still appears to be an enviable position with a 9-4 team despite its current two-game losing streak. It was becoming more and more apparent that Baltimore needed a new vision and voice to lead its offense, but the decision to make the change at this late juncture of the season was very unlike an organization that rarely makes decisions with haste. It smelled of desperation in not wanting to waste an opportunity.
“What we’re trying to do is just to get about that much better,” said Caldwell, holding his thumb and index finger roughly an inch apart. “That’s about it. And that’s a difficult task, obviously, trying to get that done in this league. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
It’s a daunting challenge, indeed, for a man with extensive coaching experience at the collegiate and professional levels but none of it coming as an offensive coordinator. Caldwell tutored future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning — or was it the other way around? — for seven years before taking over as his head coach for three years, which included a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2009 season, but he never called the plays for Manning and the high-powered Colts offense.
There’s no predicting how the 57-year-old coach will respond to the pressures of making in-game play calls with only seconds to make a decision and other coaches or players chattering in his ear. According to Harbaugh, the Ravens haven’t determined whether Caldwell will call plays from the upstairs coaches’ booth or the sideline. It’s a risky proposition trading in a known commodity — flawed as it may have been — for an alternative with question marks and very little time to adjust to his new title.
“Jim is qualified. Jim is a heck of a coach,” Harbaugh said. “And we have a heck of a staff. They’ll do a great job, and I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out.”
While fans may have visions of the offense finally being cured with Cameron no longer calling the plays, Caldwell will deal with the same problems that have plagued the Ravens all season. He’ll try to overcome an underwhelming offensive line, a group of wide receivers that struggles to gain separation consistently, and a quarterback who’s struggled with pre-snap adjustments, pocket awareness, and finding overall consistency.
How much Cameron impacted those areas is up for debate, but to assume Caldwell will significantly remedy those weaknesses in a matter of a few weeks isn’t realistic — or even fair. The Ravens’ offensive problems run deeper than their former coordinator, and we’ll see whether players are able to rise to the occasion with the shadow of Cameron no longer a built-in excuse for their shortcomings.
I suspect we’ll see much of the same offensively as the Ravens desperately need to improve their offensive line and take a long look at their future at the wide receiver position. As much as some of his toughest critics might hesitate to admit it, Cameron wasn’t the left tackle failing to protect the blind side, the receiver dropping passes or failing to get open, or the quarterback turning the ball over at critical times. There are only so many protection schemes and play designs that can mask talent deficiencies, so it will be interesting to see what Caldwell can do.
“We all take responsibility for that when something like this takes place,” Harbaugh said. “It’s real. You’re talking about anytime guys leave a program who put their heart and soul into the thing — be it a coach or player — that is real. The burden falls on everybody who’s still here.”
As for what we’ll see offensively, the Ravens don’t plan to change their offensive system, nor would it be possible to make such drastic changes without a full offseason to prepare. A rebirth of the no-huddle offense that’s virtually disappeared over the last four weeks is a distinct possibility given Caldwell’s background with Manning in Indianapolis, but the Ravens weren’t exactly thriving with the up-tempo attack in road games earlier this season and the defense was paying a major price as a result.