Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cameron's Last Stand?

Last season after the Ravens fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional round of the playoffs, frustrations boiled and it was only natural to assess the damage and allocate blame.

As certain as death and taxes, the Baltimore Ravens were carried by their defense while the offense struggled again, finishing 16th in points scored and 22nd overall in yardage – average to below average rankings.

Cam Cameron was once again squarely in the crosshairs.

Steve Bisciotti wanted Cameron replaced yet somehow John Harbaugh convinced the Ravens owner to give his offensive coordinator a mulligan. Notice was served (4:00 mark of video) and Cameron was granted borrowed time.

Now here we are a full year later and the Ravens have matched their 2010 win total and they’ve won yet another playoff game. On Sunday they will fight for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI.

That’s progress for the team but is it enough to save Cameron’s job?

Comparing this season to last the Ravens improved their overall offensive ranking from 22 to 15. They’ve also experienced a bump in their points ranking from 16 to 12. Is that enough for the Ravens’ owner?

Let’s consider the club’s investment in offense since Cameron’s arrival. Two of the last 3 first round picks have been on offense (Flacco, Oher) and 19 of the 31 picks overall. Other investments have been made in the way of trades and free agent acquisitions to help support Cameron and Joe Flacco. The Ravens gave up draft picks and money to acquire Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans while they’ve added Bryant McKinnie, Andre Gurode and Vonta Leach via free agency.

But not much has changed really and it begs the question, “Have they realized a satisfactory return on their offensive investments since Cam came on the scene in 2008?” The Ravens’ defense, despite its aging, is still asked to do all the heavy lifting.

Yesterday on Sirius/XM NFL Radio, Greg Cosell from NFL Films discussed the Ravens offense.

His opinions were anything but flattering.

In so many words Cosell stated that the Ravens passing game is:

· Archaic – their formations are a throwback to the 60’s

· Unlikely to be successful with their scheme

· Predictable in that for the most part they run only 2 routes in the route tree

· Unimaginative in that it lacks bunch formations, rubs, drags and crossing routes

· Lacking in diversity and therefore it invites press man-coverage and nearly every catch is contested

· Wasteful in that a very capable third WR, Lee Evans, was on the field for only 8 of the 63 offensive snaps, nearly unheard of in today’s pass happy NFL

As a result Cosell concluded, the Ravens are “not difficult to defend.”

Consequently that makes it even more challenging for the Ravens to succeed offensively and it places a far greater burden on Joe Flacco.

You have to wonder why Cameron would take such an approach to offense knowing that his job is at stake. Given his 28 years as an offensive football coach don’t you think that Malcolm “Cam” Cameron is aware that his offense is only a tad more sophisticated than plays drawn in the dirt?

Of course he does!

The more important question is, “Why hasn’t he changed it?”

Is he capable of change or is his quarterback incapable of embracing and/or processing the change? Would all those bunch sets, rubs, multiple personnel packages, etc help or hurt Flacco?

We don’t know and we won’t know until they try.

But will they?

The Ravens are slow to the line of scrimmage. Plays seemingly aren’t relayed to Flacco in an expedient way leaving little time for pre-snap adjustments. The Ravens don’t equip Flacco with a playbook arm band like more accomplished quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Might that be why they are slow? What would they do with the additional time pre-snap? After all it was only last year that Cameron said that audibles are overrated.

TJ Houshmandzadeh this past offseason said that when he was in Cincinnati Carson Palmer called three plays in the huddle and until he got to the line of scrimmage they didn’t know which play the Bengals would run. Comparitively speaking Houshmandzadeh added, that during all of the plays he experienced as a Raven, Flacco audibled only a couple of times.

Is Cameron that much of a control freak or is he afraid of what might happen if he gives his signal caller newfound freedom?

Clearly Flacco hasn’t grown the way the Ravens expected him to in year 4 as a starter. Is there upside in Flacco and if so how do the Ravens tap into that? Is Cameron willing and able? If not, is this as good as it gets with Flacco under Cameron’s tutelage?

Obviously this doesn’t sit well with Flacco’s teammates. We can only guess what the locker room consensus is but earlier this week Ed Reed clearly provided some clues.

"I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit by that defense," Reed said Monday during a Sirius NFL radio interview. “They had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball. I don't know how much of the play calling, he could have made audibles or anything like that, checks or whatnot, man, but it just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past. You know, it was just kind of like they was telling him to do, throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys. And he can't play like that."

Many in the media have suggested – some to blown out of proportion heights, that Reed’s comments were unnecessary and poorly timed shots at Flacco. But were they? Might Reed’s anxiety over the team’s offensive play actually be an attempt to serve notice to Cameron? The Ravens’ personnel department can’t be all that happy about the ultra slow maturation of Flacco. It bogs down the development of other offensive talent. Baltimore is quickly becoming a place where wide receivers’ careers go to die. And what GM wants that rap?

Joe Flacco’s rookie contract expires after the 2012 season. With Cam Cameron guiding the way there’s little reason to expect a much different offense next year. Flacco’s numbers suggest only slightly above average quarterback play. Do you think he’ll want a contract commensurate with those stats or with the Ravens impressive team record while Flacco is at the helm?

Win or lose on Sunday, win or lose in two weeks, it’s time for the Ravens and Cameron to part ways. Clearly the team wants to give Flacco a chance to grow and surround him with talent and coaching to ensure that happens. For the moment, he’s stuck in neutral.

Just as clearly they want Flacco to be the club’s long-term solution at quarterback. And in order to see if he is that solution and to assess his worth when his contract expires, Cameron needs to be pushed aside now shortly after the Ravens last play this season.

Only then will we know if Cameron’s offense is truly stuck in the 60’s or if it has been dummied down to match up with Flacco’s cerebral cortex.

Bisciotti’s checkbook needs to know.


Jerry B said...

I have been of the opinion that this team wins in spite of Cameron's coaching, not because of it! The "D" is much better this year under Pagano than it was under Mattison and the "O" needs a change as well. Flacco's performance the past 4 years has been astounding when you consider his background. If he's been inconsistent at times, consider that he operates in an inconsistent system! He and his talented team mates will rise to the occasion, once again, and, in spite of inept coaching, are "destined" to win the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis! At least that's what my Ouija board.........predicts!!!