Two days later — Locker room unrest could doom Ravens

October 26, 2011 | Drew Forrester

It’s never good to have locker room strife six games into a 16-game season.

The optimist would say, “better to have it now than later on in the season.”

Wrong.

The timing is never good, for starters, but six games into the season is not a good time for frustration to boil over the way it did in the aftermath of Monday’s 12-7 stinker in Jacksonville.

As Geddy Lee of RUSH once said in the song ‘Trees’ – “there is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees…”

This much is fact:  The Ravens are battling internal friction with regard to the offense and, specifically, coordinator Cam Cameron.

They were all, to a man, stunned at the turn of events of Monday night.  From John Harbaugh all the way down to the 53rd player, no one ever thought the Ravens offense was capable of playing that poorly against ANYONE in the league, let alone the lowly 1-5 Jaguars.  As I said on the air Tuesday morning, it’s one thing if you lose 24-21 and Josh Scobee hits a 53-yard field goal at the buzzer to beat you.  The other team tries too.  But to lose like that, with no first downs for 40 minutes, and only one late touchdown to show for your efforts…it was alarming to everyone involved.

And when the team scores 7 points and the offense looks like they couldn’t score on Gilman, there’s trouble on the horizon.

It’s one thing for the fans to bark and bellyache about Cameron — they’re just fans.  They’d be the first ones to start yelping for Chuck Pagano’s dismissal if Arizona and Pittsburgh put up 34 points each in the next two games.

It’s standard for the media to find *someone* to pick on for a few weeks throughout the season, particularly if the team experiences a few bumps in the road.

But when that friction becomes REAL in the locker room, that spells trouble.

And as a source said to me yesterday, “The friction after the game (Monday) was real.”

Terrell Suggs turned out to be the designated speaker for the group.  While Ray Lewis quickly dressed in the locker next to him and then scooted out without addressing the media to meet up with a group of close friends who were at the game, Suggs spoke up for the disgruntled by questioning why Ray Rice only carried the ball eight times during the game (Suggs said “seven”, but it was eight).

Once a player takes to questioning a coach in the media, that’s generally the last straw.

That makes the friction real.

Suggs was wrong for questioning the team’s offensive coordinator to the media after the game.  Period.  That’s just not acceptable.  But it’s out now and John Harbaugh has to deal with it directly and quickly before it turns into a festering boil that winds up costing his team wins and a shot at the Super Bowl.

It should be noted that Harbaugh essentially agreed with Suggs yesterday during his Monday press conference by saying, “Ray Rice has to get more than 8 carries in the game, everyone knows that…”  But he’s allowed to do that, because he’s the coach. And Harbaugh couldn’t – and wouldn’t – call out Suggs yesterday to the media.  He wouldn’t do that to Suggs or any of his players.  And Harbaugh certainly wishes Suggs wouldn’t have done it to Cameron on Monday night.

This locker room unrest is on John Harbaugh now.

It’s easy to say, “No, Drew, it’s on Cam Cameron”, but the game-plan is in, the plays have been practiced and there’s no turning back.  Cam Cameron is the team’s offensive coordinator, for better or worse.  It’s fair to note, as one team source said to me yesterday, that Cameron hasn’t been a bumbling idiot in Baltimore over the last four years.  ”Cam has had plenty of good offensive games, plenty…” says the source.  ”He put together a great scheme against the Steelers in the opener and he was on point in St. Louis.  It’s not like he can’t do it.”  And that’s true.  But when you have inept offensive performances like the one we saw on Monday night, it’s only natural to over-react and put all the blame on the coordinator.

Suggs couldn’t stand up after the game and say, “Dude, Bryant McKinnie had a nightmare tonight” or “Did you see those two blocks Ed Dickson missed that led to Flacco sacks?” or “Ray Rice fumbling like that early on really hurt us” or “They ran right through our defensive line…”

A player questioning another player would almost never, ever happen.

But for some reason, players feel like it’s OK to question the coaches when the s**t hits the fan.

And for the rest of the season, every time there’s a lethargic half of football or – gasp! – if there’s another offensive performance like the one we saw on Monday night, Harbaugh is going to have to calm the masses in the locker room.

Harbaugh isn’t worried what the fans think and he’s certainly not concerned at all about what the media thinks about his football team.

But he’s very worried about how his players feel and he knows this kind of unrest is potentially VERY damaging.

All John has to do is ask Brian Billick what happens when the players decide they’d rather put the blame on the coaching staff rather than take some of the responsibility themselves.  Billick had a star player and a member of his own coaching staff feeding a local columnist ALL the locker room dirt back in the 2005 season and that, more than anything else, turned out to be the beginning of the end for Billick in Baltimore.  It took two years…but that poison was in the veins of the team and it only got worse.

Harbaugh can’t afford for his locker room to get poisoned six games into the season.

His first order of business should be to sit down with Suggs and clip his wings for speaking out to the media like that.  He should then issue that same cautionary tone to the rest of his team, including a couple of Pro Bowl players who also quietly chirped to members of the media after the game.

After that, he needs to sit down (again) with Cam Cameron and make sure Cameron isn’t wobbling under the stress of the job he’s been handed.  Stress is almost always an inhibitor — it’s never, ever a positive.  So Harbaugh not only has to quell the locker room issues, but he has to make sure Cameron is performing to his capabilities and not caving in to the pressures of putting up 30 points week after week.

It was uncomfortable for him, but the events of Monday night forced Harbaugh to question Cameron for his Monday night game-plan that saw Ray Rice only touch the ball a total of 13 times.  Everyone, including the coach, knows 13 touches for Rice isn’t a good recipe for winning.  And it means Harbaugh has to use his authority over Cameron to question him — and that, too, isn’t necessarily good for the locker room or the organization.

But that’s why Harbaugh gets $4 million a year.

And he has his hands full right now, because the balance of the season might very well be dictated by the amount of stress his locker room experiences over the next three months.

I don’t know much, but I do know this:  The players speaking to the media about internal issues — either on the record or off the record — is the beginning of trouble.

You can bet your house on that.

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