The Ravens have a lot to think about in this off-season, which depending on the level of the NFL’s anticipated labor strife, could last much monger than usual this time around. Dropped balls, bad calls, blown leads and missed opportunities should and likely will haunt the members of this team for as long as it takes them to see enough success to put those memories into their proverbial rearview mirror.
Given the embarrassing fashion in which their season ended on Saturday, again at the unforgiving hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’d imagine there’ll be a lot of off-season soul searching going on at every level of the organization.
Some of those who had a hand in Saturday’s loss will not be back; it’s the inevitability of professional football. And predictably one of the popular choices, at least amongst the fans, to not come back is offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
While I’m not in love with the body of work that Cameron has compiled here with the Ravens, and while I was also in the camp of those who were unimpressed with the hire when it happened, put me squarely in the camp of those who want Cam back for another shot at this thing. There are a number of factors that have led me to think this way, but here are, in my opinion, the most poignant.
First is the labor strife mentioned earlier. Who knows when this thing will be resolved? Even the most hopeful of fans has to believe that negotiations will run into, and therefore likely compromise OTA’s. Further, in the course of negotiating for a longer season and more money, the owners appear likely to be willing to severely scale back OTA schedules as a concession to the union.
That would mean that going forward, the suddenly chic turnover of coach and quarterback leading to instant success formula could be a short lived phenomenon and a relic of a now bygone era. Even if that’s not the case, surely an off-season in which there may not be OTA’s anyway, and in which the season itself may be forced to begin in haste is the worst possible time to think about jettisoning coaches or coordinators. Implementing a new system would be a hopeless proposition, so promoting within would have to be the logical next step anyway. Is Jim Zorn or Al Saunders that compelling right now?
On a related note, if 2011 has all of the expected trouble getting off the ground, there will likely be a number of teams in terrible situations for the reasons mentioned above. It would be foolish for a team that was so close to put themselves willingly into that category just for the sake of casting a scapegoat.
Second, for John Harbaugh to fire Cameron would look like an attempt to absolve himself from culpability in Saturday’s meltdown. The coordinators call the plays, but the coaches set the game plan. Cameron and Mattison both take their cues from Harbaugh. Throughout the season Harbaugh has eschewed the opportunity to play to win, rather than not to lose. That the coordinators follow suit with their play calling philosophies shouldn’t be a surprise. Again on Saturday, Harbaugh’s lack of aggression and subsequent mismanagement of the clock at the end of the first half showed no faith in the offense’s ability to use sound judgment while attempting to put a proverbial dagger in the Steelers. You could say that the tone for the second half began being set in those moments. Confidence is funny like that. The coach should have shown confidence in his offense.
Beyond that, since Harbaugh has apparently already indicated a desire to bring back his coordinators ahead of his year end meeting with Steve Bisciotti, backing off of that stance now would seem to give a clear indication that his had was being forced.
And lastly and in my mind most importantly, there’s Cameron’s potential to grow. We all have that. We learn from our mistakes. Sometimes we have to make those mistakes over and over again before we grow from them, but the capacity is there for all of us.
I know how not only the Ravens’ loss, but also the way that they lost has sat with me as a fan in the 36 hours or so since the final whistle blew. I also know that I can’t even begin to imagine how much it affected those responsible for it at every level. Hopefully there’s a fire burning inside of every member of the organization that will keep them up nights until they have a chance to finish what they started…whenever that may be.
That, after all, should have been the expectation anyway. You don’t hire a head coach who’s never done it before and expect everything to come easily. To their credit, Harbaugh and company have made it look too easy at times, so easy perhaps that we’re holding them all to an improbable standard if not an impossible one.
Maybe that’s what’s at the heart of it all. It is an improbable charge, but not an impossible one. The road to being Bill Bellichick is a typical one, albeit to atypical results, Look no further however than to Bellichick’s early coaching career to see where all of that savvy came from. Early struggles laid the groundwork for near unprecedented success later, after learning lessons the hard way.
Mike Tomlin however, has been the exception to the rule. Tomlin took charge of a team that was ready to win, and allowed them to do their thing, but he did take charge…complete charge. In so doing, he’s given us as fans the expectation that Harbaugh and company should be able to do the same. And they’re in the same division. The Ravens have gotten close…and they’re getting closer. Even in the wake of a monumental meltdown – especially in the wake of a monumental meltdown – they’re getting closer.
Allow them to grow Steve Bisciotti. If you want to help them to grow then empower them. Give Harbaugh his raise and his extension, he’s earned that. And give them all the assurance that fortune favors the bold. We’ve seen what the conservative approach to protecting a lead (and protecting your job) leads to. Give them the assurance that 21 point losses and 3 point losses will be judged as equal, as long as they are playing to win. Confidence is funny that way. The owner needs to show some in his coaching staff.