Keeping great players happy is Ravens week three challenge

September 20, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Back in the 1980′s, four guys got together to form what many considered to be the ultimate rock-music-super-group.  They were called ASIA, and it consisted of John Wetton (former lead singer of King Crimson and Uriah Heep), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Yes), Steve Howe (Yes) and Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake and Palmer).  They had a huge debut release that was #1 in 1982.  And even though the band hung around for a while and made a bunch of money, there was internal strife from the beginning, which eventually led to Greg Lake taking Wetton’s spot as the lead singer for a couple of years.

Imagine what it would be like today if you were a music promoter with more money than you knew what to do with and you wanted to create the modern-era supergroup.  How about Eddie Vedder on lead vocals, Dave Matthews on secondary vocals, Eddie Van Halen and Alex Lifeson – both – on lead guitar, Steffan Lessard on bass and Chad Smith on drums.  Helluva band, eh?

The only question:  How do you keep them all happy?  Who gets to sing the opening song?  Who gets the encore?  Which guitar player gets the longer solo?  Chad Smith wants the drum set in the middle of the stage, not stowed away in the background where no one can see him.

It would be hard friggin’ work keeping all of those rock stars happy.

And that’s the problem Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh have right now with their offense.

They have A LOT of rock stars.  Or, perhaps, a lot of guys who fancy themselves rock stars.

And they all want the ball.  And two games into the season, one thing that stands out to me is the mere fact that the Ravens offense has not yet established any kind of real identity.

This isn’t about losing to the Bengals yesterday.  I thought (and predicted) that they would lose to the Bengals.  You don’t win every week in the NFL.

This is much more about getting guys to buy into the concept that some weeks a different player has to be the “go-to” choice for that specific game plan.  And that means, basically, that not every player can have his career day each and every Sunday.

The sputtering Ravens offense last Monday night was at least good enough to muster 10 points and pull out a one-point win.  In that game, Joe Flacco was bad in the first half but good in the second half and it all added up to an “OK” performance from the 3rd year quarterback.  Anquan Boldin was a true rock-star in the opener at The (New) Meadowlands.  So was Todd Heap.  Ray Rice was involved, but not nearly as much as most of us assumed he would be.  Willis McGahee only played about 3 total minutes, but did account for the team’s lone touchdown of the night.  And Le’Ron McClain, much to his chagrin, was an afterthought in New York.  Summary:  Not everyone got the touches they wanted, but the team won and that’s all that mattered in New York.

Fast forward to Sunday in Cincinnati.  No offensive player stood out.  No one.  That means, generally, you’re probably going to lose.

The quarterback had his worst day as a pro.  The running game, which worked well when used, was shut-down for all intents and purposes in the final 20 minutes of the contest.  Anquan Boldin pitched a fit at halftime, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was nowhere to be found all afternoon and Derrick Mason made one catch and bee-lined it out of the locker room after the game.

In other words – EVERYONE had a reason to be angry after the game.

Boldin’s flare-up would be the chief concern to me – if I’m in Cam Cameron’s shoes – because he had similar situations arise in Arizona.  I think Boldin is a very good football player, don’t get me wrong.  But two games into the season, you can’t have a newcomer stewing and brooding on the sidelines during a game the team is still very much capable of winning.  Two games into the season, he can’t go nuts at halftime and create a scene with the quarterback, demanding the ball and respect and all that other nonsense that “rock stars” mandate whenever they feel slighted.

You know Mason is pissed whenever he DOESN’T talk.  Sometimes he’s pissed when he DOES speak, but you know damn good and well that #85 is really ticked when he bolts out of the locker room and doesn’t take the chance to say something to the media.  Rumor has it Mason proposed to a microphone once — that’s how much he loves them.

Houshmandzadeh had a bad day.  He spoke to the media afterwards and told the truth:  ”I need to do better.”  He’s right.  Make that “A LOT” better, in fact.  Houshmandzadeh was a curious pick-up for the Ravens because he’s never really been a winner, a fact he admitted to at his opening press conference (“I’m tired of always losing”).  Perhaps he’ll figure out a way to be part of a winning environment in Baltimore, but his three drops on Sunday in Cincinnati were probably three reasons why he dressed in the visitor’s locker room instead of the home locker room yesterday.

The running backs weren’t thrilled, either, but two of them are always going to be down-in-the-dumps anyway.  To a man, all three of them believe they should be the go-to-ball-carrier.  Ray Rice IS the man, of course, but both McGahee and McClain believe in their heart-of-hearts that the team’s offense would run better if they were the primary back.  And good for them for believing that.  But it doesn’t work that way, of course.

So this is Cam Cameron’s dilemma.  How does he put together this supergroup and keep everyone happy?

It’s not too early to wonder if perhaps the Ravens have too many chefs in the kitchen.

I’ll gladly admit I was one of the people who bought into the Baltimore-pre-season-hype with the additions of Boldin, Stallworth and T.J.  I assumed – as most people did – that if you keep stockpiling outstanding players they will all just naturally mold into one cohesive unit.  And they still might, of course.  There’s lots and lots and lots of football left to play. Unlike some people in town who are already pushing the panic button on Flacco et al, I’m not.  Come January, there will be playoff football involving the Ravens, barring a significant injury to Flacco and/or two or three other key players.

But with that summary in mind, it’s definitely worth at least considering the dilemma Cam Cameron faces right now.  How does he keep everyone happy?  If you throw the ball to Boldin 10 times, Mason 10 times, T.J. 5 times and Heap 5 times, that’s 30 offensive plays.  That leaves approximately 30 more offensive plays to mix in a running game, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta and down-and-distance situations that might require quarterback sneaks, etc.  If you go into the game thinking “we’ll give Ray Rice 24 carries and go from there”, you can almost bet that one or two of the wide receivers will be left out of the mix.

And when someone gets left out, particularly when losing, they react accordingly.

I’m glad I’m not Cam Cameron.

He also has a quarterback to worry about, as Flacco has clearly been uneven (kindly) and suspect (a more honest word) through 8 quarters of play this season.  That opening hit in the Jets game might have done more to him than any of us realized at the time.  It was a crushing blow to the head and guys with lesser heart wouldn’t have gotten up from it.  Flacco is a tough kid.  He won’t back down…it’s just not in his mentality to do that.  But you’d be fair to at least wonder if he’s still not reeling either physically or mentally from that jarring hit on the first offensive play of the season last Monday night.

Make no mistake about it — a 1-1 record two games into the regular season is absolutely acceptable when you’ve played at New York and at Cincinnati.  The Ravens will steamroll the Browns this Sunday by the score of 30-13 and all will be well with the world next Monday.  Eventually, though, Baltimore will face a real team again and have to put up offensive numbers in order to win.

Can Cam and John Harbaugh get the offensive stars on the same page – quickly – and make them understand that not everyone can be the lead singer on each night of the tour?

I don’t know.

It’s not easy, though, I do know that.

Sunday in Cincinnati proved that, where one player snapped at halftime, another left the scene of the crime without talking and the quarterback was left to ponder a day in which he turned the ball over four times.

The supergroup concept is a great one as long as everyone is making sweet music.

Two games in — the Ravens need to tune-up their instruments and get everyone singing the same song.

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