Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun
December 16, 2012
4. The calculated risk of replacing coordinator Cam Cameron with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell in the middle of a December swoon saved the Ravens offense from itself.
Sometime late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 28-13 win over the New England Patriots -- when the Ravens called three straight pass plays while leading by 15 points -- my thoughts briefly drifted to Cam Cameron, the embattled offensive coordinator who was dismissed after a 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 14. Somewhere, I figured, Cameron was watching the offense he built and the quarterback he groomed outscore the high-octane Patriots, who led the NFL in scoring during the regular season, and advance to the Super Bowl without him. I'm sure it was a bittersweet moment for him, because I'm sure he cared about many of the players he coached, including Joe Flacco.
But the reality is that whether the Ravens had fired him or not, he was going to be watching the AFC championship game on a couch somewhere Sunday night, because they Ravens wouldn't have made it this far if he was still calling the plays and trying to make the most of a strained relationship with his quarterback. The decision to fire him raised eyebrows only due to the timing, but few questioned the move itself, because it was apparent that Flacco and the offense had reached their ceiling under Cameron.
Jim Caldwell, who was promoted from his gig as quarterbacks coach, didn't have time to make major schematic changes to the Ravens offense. He has made subtle tweaks, like having Flacco roll out more and dusting off screen plays. But his patience as a play-caller, something he had never done before at the pro level, has really paid off for the Ravens. Under Caldwell, the Ravens have been much more balanced, and getting Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce involved early in games has opened up the field for Flacco.
His propensity to call running plays on first down and then usually on second down, too, has frustrated some fans, but it is keeping the offense on schedule and keeping the Ravens out of perilous third-and-long situations. And Caldwell showed off his flexibility in the second half of the win over the Patriots, scrapping the running game and his base personnel and putting the game in Flacco's hands. With Flacco in his comfort zone -- the shotgun-spread, no-huddle offense that Cameron helped implement -- the fifth-year quarterback picked apart the Patriots, finishing with 240 yards and three touchdown passes.
The Ravens stopped short of announcing that Caldwell would be Cameron's full-time replacement last month, but he has made a compelling case to keep the job -- if he wants it -- these past few weeks. The Ravens have scored 90 points in three playoff games, and Flacco, who gets along well with his soft-spoken coordinator, is playing the best football of his life.
Cameron took this offense as far as he could. Caldwell has taken it even further, to the Super Bowl, and he deserves a chance to continue calling the plays in 2013.