In the wake of the Ravens loss on Sunday, the “Fire Cam Cameron” mob is once again fashioning their torches and sharpening their pitchforks. To anyone who’s been watching this team over the 4+ years that are the John Harbaugh / Cam Cameron era it shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact, it was Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti who himself helped to fuel and to further this conversation by declaring “Cam under fire” following the 2010 season. Although Cameron seemed to survive his “under fire” season of a year ago and despite the fact that the Ravens found themselves within an eyelash of a Super Bowl appearance last year, the “fire Cameron” crowd is growing in size and urgency by the day.
At this point it might be fair to ask, if fans and even the owner perceive Cameron as a liability, then why hasn’t John Harbaugh seen it too? Is Harbaugh simply loyal to a fault and to the detriment of the team or might there be more to the situation than meets the eye?
When the Ravens brought Cameron in to run their offense I was opposed to the move. I was opposed on the grounds that in just one year he had overseen a near mutiny (to use a familiar term) taking place on his Dolphins team but that wasn’t even my biggest beef. The bigger issue that I had with Cameron related to his time in San Diego. It was easy to see first that both Drew Brees and Philip Rivers seemed to flourish when removed from Cameron’s system. In Brees’ case, Cameron and the San Diego staff failed not only to utilize his talents to their fullest potential, but they failed to even give him much of a shot. After one year at the helm of the Chargers offense, Brees was benched in favor of Doug Flutie and then saw the team draft his replacement in Rivers shortly thereafter. And while all of the aforementioned was troubling, that still wasn’t my biggest concern with Cam Cameron running the offense.
My issue, or expectation of the Cameron offense was based on something much simpler. During his time at the helm of the Chargers, it seemed that Cameron’s offense did everything over the middle of the field. Despite San Diego’s tendency to stock their receiving corps with big and physical pass catchers, there was absolutely no effort made to utilize them outside of the hash marks. With “up the middle” talent like Antonio Gates and LaDanian Tomlinson, it’s easy to understand why this was the philosophy but still worth mentioning that essentially ignoring the outsides of the field made things easier for opposing defenses.
Now fast-forward to and through Cameron’s first 4+ seasons in Baltimore and the exact opposite is true. It seems that here, Cameron’s offense only operates outside of the numbers and does nothing over the middle. When assessing the personnel at hand, again it’s easy to understand why. The Ravens lack the middle of the field “power forwards” that so many teams have begun to put to use in creating mismatches over the middle. The Ravens seem to lack confidence in their pass catchers and therefore look at balls off the fingertips outside as likely to go out of bounds while balls off the fingertips over the middle are more likely to find their way into the arms of waiting safeties.
Having the benefit of a strong armed quarterback in Joe Flacco who’s easily able to flick balls outside of the numbers and more than willing to check down to Ray Rice when those options aren’t there, it seems that Cameron’s offense is once again allowing opposing defenses the luxury of not having to account for the whole field. He’s gone from a guy who ran nothing outside of the hash marks to a guy who now runs everything outside the hash marks.
On one hand he could be applauded for adapting his game plans to suit his personnel, but on the other hand he’s a guy who has consistently allowed defenses the luxury of not exactly knowing what’s coming, but at least of being able to rule out a number of things that aren’t coming. For these reasons, it’s my opinion that Cameron should be under fire. But…