With Cam Cameron Gone, Jim Caldwell Gets a Shot as Baltimore's Offensive Coordinator
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: December 10, 2012
When a coach is handed a pink slip during the regular season, one inherently expects the team to be floundering (a la erstwhile Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo). It may come as a shock, then, when the team doing the shuffling is 9-4, two games ahead in its division and all but biding its time until the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens organization undoubtedly surprised many this morning when it announced the termination of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in favor of current quarterbacks coach (and former successor to head coach Tony Dungy at Indianapolis) Jim Caldwell. The Ravens just dropped their first set of back-to-back games since 2009, suffering last-minute losses to both Pittsburgh and Washington.
Is it a knee-jerk reaction to relieve Cameron of his duties? It might be. Is it the wrong move? I don't believe so. In four years as offensive coordinator, Cameron never developed a top ten offense (its #13 ranking in 2009 was the highest it ascended in his tenure). He was the rare coach who was able to simultaneously underuse the most talented player in his offense (running back Ray Rice's 218 touches this season ranks 12th in the NFL) while alienating his quarterback. Joe Flacco recently expressed his frustrations to the Baltimore Sun, saying he believed more frequent no-huddle would result in a more productive offense, and he probably wasn't off the mark. In the no-huddle approach, Flacco completes 64% of his passes for an average of 7.2 yards a play; when huddling, he hits 58% of his targets for 4.9 yards a play.
Rumors have followed Flacco and Cameron throughout the pair's time in Baltimore, and they have often painted the relationship as cordial at best, contentious at worst. And both quarterback and offensive coordinator were in the final year of their respective contracts; Flacco's rookie contract is up at the season's end while Cameron was brought back for the year in 2012. The odds of Cameron maintaining his role, short of a Super Bowl appearance/win, weren't particularly high to begin with, so by removing Cameron from the equation, head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome will have a few games to evaluate Flacco and Caldwell. They will discover whether Flaccos' 55 second half yards against Washington (coupled with a fumble and an interception that resulted in six Redskins points) were a product of Cameron's inepitude or that of Flacco.
That is, of course, assuming quarterbacks coach Caldwell can step in and make a difference. Caldwell has a reputation for earning the affection and respect of his players, but his one shot at decision-making sans Peyton Manning wasn't overwhelmingly successful. He's served as quarterbacks and receivers coach in the past and has been on Baltimore's staff since the summer, so he will be familiar with Baltimore's personnel (and their respective strengths and weaknesses). But how well will he execute?
The biggest measuring stick will be how well he utilizes Rice's talents. Aside from perceived personality conflicts, the biggest knock on Cameron has been his use of Rice (or lack thereof). That Rice didn't touch the ball after a fourth quarter interception against Pittsburgh, particularly after his stunning play in San Diego one week prior, was dumbfounding and ultimately played a part in Baltimore's first home loss in two seasons. Caldwell will be expected to avoid such errors in decision-making and to right the Rice ship. But for all the pressure facing Caldwell, who is undoubtedly on a quest for redemption after a 2-14 season as Indy's head coach, it's Flacco who should be most wary of his future.
Firing its offensive coordinator in the waning weeks of the season is Baltimore's way of supporting its quarterback, giving him an opportunity to thrive under a new playcaller and finish the year on a high note. But if Flacco continues to turn over the ball in key situations; if he is unable to assemble two consecutive clean halves of football; if he doesn't spend the next three games raising his game to elite level and fails to secure the lucrative contract he's pining for, he'll have no one to blame but himself. Or perhaps he'll just sub Caldwell in at the role of scapegoat.
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @KimOHaraTFG
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