When the Baltimore Ravens didn't give the ball to running back Ray Rice once in the team's 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 2, the fans' calls for the head of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron intensified. And when the Ravens followed that loss with a 31-28 overtime stunner at the hands of the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the team felt that a move needed to be made.
Now 9-4 after those two losses, the Ravens have fired Cameron and will replace him with quarterbacks coach (and former Indianapolis Colts head coach) Jim Caldwell.
Cameron, the former Miami Dolphins head coach and San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator, was in his fifth season with Baltimore. He was named the team's offensive coordinator in 2008, as part of the coaching shakeup that saw Brian Billick get the boot and John Harbaugh step in as Billick's replacement.
The Ravens have been successful through that time, never losing more than seven games and amassing a 53-24 regular-season record, but Cameron's offenses never placed higher than ninth in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted DVOA metrics in overall offensive efficiency. This despite several high draft picks to buttress the offense, such as Rice, quarterback Joe Flacco, receiver Torrey Smith and offensive tackle Michael Oher.
"Personally, this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a coach," Harbaugh said on Monday morning (via WNST). "There is a very human side to this. Cam is my friend, he taught me a lot about coaching, and he is an outstanding coach. Cam has been a significant contributor to all of our successes over the past four, almost five, seasons. Deservedly, he is highly regarded, and we owe thanks to him for what he did for the Ravens ... It's not about fair or unfair, right or wrong. My responsibility is to the whole team and what's best for them right now."
At times, Cameron seemed to be living in a long-gone time when receiver distribution and location (to use a favorite phrase of our friend Greg Cosell) wasn't as important as it is now. In 2011, the Ravens ranked 30th in offensive formations of three receivers, setting up that way just 28 percent of the time. Cameron's insistence on sending his receivers on isolation routes, essentially forcing his players to beat coverage without the advantages provided by formation diversity, gave the Ravens' offense a handicap.
Cameron seemed to switch things up in 2012, going with more wide and multiple sets, and setting Flacco up in more no-huddle sets that seemed to play well to the quarterback's strengths. However, the Ravens regressed to type as the season went on, and even Flacco was quoted as saying that he didn't understand why there wasn't as much no-huddle.
Caldwell, hired before the 2012 season after the Colts let him go, will face a familiar name in his first game at his new position. Next Sunday, the Ravens play the Denver Broncos, who are piloted by Peyton Manning.
In February, soon after he was hired, Caldwell said that he was "tickled to death" to be working with Flacco.
"Everybody's different," the coach said. "[Flacco] has his own strengths, and what we want to try to do is accentuate those. I'm not here to try to make him like any other quarterback in this league, like Peyton Manning or the other guys I've coached. That's not my goal. He is who he is. What we want to do is just help him perfect what he does well."
Caldwell said that most of all, he admired Flacco's consistency.
"Joe's been able to show it for four years. He's continued to get better and lead his team to the playoffs. That's consistency. Every once in a while you will find a quarterback that will have one outstanding year and that's it. Every once in a while you'll find one that has two pretty good years. And that's it for their entire career. The individuals that can string them back to back to back to back and continue, that's what you look for in terms of performing at a very high level."
Caldwell had Flacco scouted to a degree through several meetings between Baltimore's current and former teams in recent years. "We knew he was dangerous because we knew he could make all the throws," the coach said. "He could make all the finesse throws, all the intermediate throws, and under duress. He's a tough guy to handle."
Now, Caldwell will get his shot with one of the most potentially explosive offenses in the NFL. We'll see if it was just Cam Cameron standing in the way.
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