Just a few short days ago, I was preparing to write my blog about another late game collapse by a Ravens team that appears to be stumbling toward the finish line. There was plenty of blame to go around yesterday. My thoughts would have focused on Dean Pees’ questionable decision to stop blitzing late in the fourth quarter, Michael Oher’s inability to block, Joe Flacco’s inability to hold onto the football, John Harbaugh’s wasted timeout while trying to run a fake punt and Cam Cameron’s bizarre play calling at the end of the first half. But, at around lunch time Monday, the theme of my blog changed. ABC dropped the bombshell that the Ravens had fired Cam Cameron. Cameron had been a lightning rod for criticism during his tenure in Baltimore as his relationship with Joe Flacco and the offense never really got off the ground. While many assumed that this year could very well be the end of Cam Cameron in Baltimore, NOBODY thought he would get fired with three games to go in the season with the Ravens clinging to a two-game lead in the division. But the leaders at the castle clearly reached the tipping point and decided that now was the time to relieve Cam of his duties. Although it seems a bit crazy to change coordinators in December, the timing is actually very good. Let’s take a look at what this move means and why the Ravens pulled the plug on Cameron today rather than January.
Important Questions Get Answered Without Cam Around
The front office had clearly decided before yesterday that Cam Cameron would not be back as Offensive Coordinator next year. I believe this is true because Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome NEVER make knee jerk decisions. The move to fire Cam at this point allows new coordinator Jim Caldwell and Joe Flacco to develop a new relationship as coordinator and quarterback which is different than quarterback coach and quarterback. This duo will have at least four games (3 regular season games and at least one playoff game) to see if their working relationship can take this offense to the next level. This gives Jim Caldwell a fair shot at winning the job as he will be the first coordinator not named Cameron to call plays for Joe Flacco. If the Ravens have success offensively over the next four weeks and Caldwell proves that he has the ability to take Flacco’s game to the next level, he will be back as coordinator next season. If things don’t work out, then the Ravens will be able to aggressively go after Norv Turner, Ken Whisenhut or potentially Hugh Jackson to lead the offense next year. Firing Cameron today allows the Ravens to truly assess all of their options at coordinator and determine the best path forward for this historically average offense. The hope is that the Caldwell/Flacco relationship is a smashing success which would make for a fairly smooth transition. But, if it doesn’t work out, Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome have given themselves several other options going forward. This is one reason why Cam was fired today and not at the end of the season. Steve Biscotti did not become a millionaire by not being able to think ahead.
Who Is Joe Flacco
The front office is facing a really tough decision on what to do with Joe Flacco at the end of the season. At times he looks like an elite quarterback and at other times he looks like Tony Banks with his inability to hold onto the football. Joe Flacco will be the Ravens quarterback next year, but will he have a new contract or will he be franchised? There is no doubt that Flacco’s beef with Cameron has affected his play because the two never saw eye to eye. So now with a new voice inside his helmet, Flacco will have an opportunity to raise his game to the next level. He will have to prove that he can hold onto the ball, especially in critical situations. It will be Caldwell’s job to help Flacco with the play calling, and it will be Flacco’s job to execute. The front office will have a better idea of Joe’s worth after this four-plus game experiment.
Joe could make a few bucks if he is successful or it could give the Ravens leverage if Flacco continues with his inconsistent play. Finding a good starting quarterback in the NFL is one of the most difficult things to do. Do you remember Stony Case, Scott Mitchell, Kyle Boller? Need I say more? It takes most teams at least a decade to find a guy who consistently can win games in the league. The Ravens have a quarterback who has proven he can take them to the Super Bowl (Lee Evans!). But, if they invest in Flacco long term, they have to find the right coach and the right system to allow him to be more consistent and grow as a quarterback. With Joe Flacco hitting free agency this offseason, the Ravens need to a clearer picture of who they really have behind center. Is it the guy who can lead you to a Super Bowl, or is it the guy who fails to pick up blitzes during his pre-snap routine and fumbles the football? Again, the next four games will provide some answers with that would not have been answered if Cameron were still the coordinator.
Caldwell helped bring the up tempo sugar huddle offense to Baltimore where Flacco has really shined. For some odd reason, Cameron put the brakes on that offense at times when he should have been hitting the gas. Yesterday’s second half play calling was a prime example. I expected to see Flacco running a more up temp offense and lining up in the shotgun a bit more. While Cameron tried to force Joe to do some things he didn’t like as well as micro manage Flacco during the game, I expect Caldwell to call plays based on Flacco’s strengths. It is easy to forget that Flacco was a top five rated quarterback over the first four weeks of this season running the sugar huddle offense. Look for this offense to attack more over the next few games.
Cam Cameron hit a ceiling with Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers which makes it likely that he has hit the same ceiling with Flacco. The goal now is to find out how high the ceiling is for #5.
Other Players Will Be Assessed
I’m sure that Bisciotti and Newsome are wondering why their high drafts picks and big salaried players disappear at times. Torrey Smith has been a non-factor because he only appears to run one route. If he doesn’t catch a bomb, he doesn’t make a catch. A player with his speed would appear to be dangerous running a slant, screen, reverse etc. Ozzie Newsome used a high draft pick to get Smith, so I’m sure he would like to see him utilized more in the game plan. The same goes for Ray Rice whom the Ravens backed up the Brinks truck for in the offseason. What about the third receiver position? Has Jacoby Jones or Tandon Doss been a factor at all on offense? Why does Dennis Pitta disappear for long stretches? Are these players getting utilized and being developed properly? Under Cameron’s leadership, the answer is no. These are questions that need to be answered and answered quickly. With the draft and free agency only a few short months away, Newsome, Bisciotti and Harbaugh need a much clearer picture of what they need to do moving forward. They really can’t afford to enter next season with the same cast of characters if they are unable to help this offense improve. It is obvious the inconstancies on offense are directly related to the inconsistencies in play calling. Evaluating this team and its talent under new leadership for at least four games will certainly help this franchise. Sure, it will still be a small sample size, but had they kept Cameron on board, they would have missed a golden opportunity to improve the long-term success of the franchise.
With the Manning brothers coming to town to face a depleted, porous defense, Harbaugh knows his team will have to score a lot of points. For the Ravens to make a run, Joe Flacco has to be at his best, which would be hard to do under Cameron. Nobody is as successful or efficient as they can be if they don’t like their boss. That’s Psychology 101. This change in coordinator could very well give this offense the short term boost it needs to put points on the board down the stretch. Everybody on the planet knows the Ravens can’t win a defensive battle. But, they do have the potential to put 30 plus points on the board which would keep them in a lot of games. The best chance for the Ravens to make a run was to give the offense a jolt by handing the keys over to Caldwell who clearly has Flacco’s ear and respect as was evidenced in yesterday’s game where Joe spent time after each series on the phone with him. I think anybody who has seen this team play all year knows that it has too many flaws to be considered a serious Super Bowl contender. But this is the NFL and history has proven that if you make the playoffs, you have a chance. So when Harbaugh tells us he believes this move gives them the best chance to win, he’s telling the truth.
As a Raven fan, you have to know that Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are 100% dedicated to winning. While a move like this may smell like desperation,every move this franchise makes is a well thought out calculated move. There is no one reason why Cam Cameron got fired today. The reasons I have mentioned in this blog are just part of the story why the Ravens cut ties with Cameron today and not in February. As long as Steve Bisciotti is our owner, the #1 priority will be for the Ravens to be perennial Super Bowl contenders. Bisciotti’s goal is to bring several Lombardi trophies to Baltimore and he and his staff spend hours daily figuring out how to make the Baltimore Ravens the best franchise in football. Firing Cameron and hiring Caldwell may not win a Super Bowl this year. But you can bet they will use this move as a stepping stone to return this franchise to greatness. While most franchises would be thrilled with a 9-4 record, Harbaugh, Bisciotti and Newsome have set the bar much higher in Baltimore. This is just another reason why I am proud to be part of Raven’s Nation. I certainly expect there to be some renewed energy at M&T Bank stadium on Sunday when Jim Caldwell’s offensive coordinator debut will ironically come against his former student Peyton Manning. A story line doesn’t get any better than that!