Baltimore's firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron smacks of panic, and maybe that's what it is. But Cameron was on a short leash, and the offense's third-quarter failures on Sunday in a game the Ravens could've ... and should've won ... was the last straw. So, after holding fast in the face of Cameron critics for years, coach John Harbaugh made the move.
The timing is curious, but the change is not. Cameron had been under fire for some time, with his handling of star running back Ray Rice often the subject. But people close to the club tell me that Cameron and quarterback Joe Flacco didn't exactly see eye to eye, and that's an understatement, and that questions abounded over the consistency as well as the substance of the play calling.
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I've heard too many critics describe what Baltimore runs as "vanilla," and I don't know if that's an indictment of Cameron. But I do know it was a factor in a move that is surprising only because of its timing.
With Baltimore losing its second straight, something had to be done to put the club back on its feet ... though this is something drastic. Seldom do in-season firings of coordinators make an immediate difference (see Philadelphia and Juan Castillo and Tennessee and Chris Palmer), but there is a notable exception. The New York Giants tried it before the last game of 2006, hiring then quarterbacks-coach Kevin Gilbride as their offensive coordinator for a must-win contest with Washington.
That was a panic move, with coach Tom Coughlin almost surely in line to get fired if he didn't win the season finale and reach the playoffs. The Giants did, and now you know the rest of the story.
The irony here is that it wasn't the offense as much as it was the Ravens' defense that short-circuited in Sunday's overtime loss, with Washington scoring on its last two drives -- tying the game at the end of the fourth quarter with second-string rookie Kirk Cousins making the plays. But that defense was crippled, and I'm not talking about just the absences of linebackers Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbee and Terrell Suggs . Linebacker Jameel McClain bowed out during Sunday's game, too, meaning the Ravens were forced to play undrafted free agents Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes inside and, well, the results speak for themselves.
Nevertheless, there has been a lingering dissatisfaction with the direction of the offense, with Rice touching the ball only 13 times in last weekend's loss to Pittsburgh and Flacco under fire in a third quarter Sunday where the Ravens could've put the game away. Instead, he fumbled once and threw an interception, and Baltimore missed an opportunity.
"My charge," Harbaugh said Monday, "our responsiblity as a coaching staff, is to maximize the opportunities for our team to win, and we can still reach all of our goals for this season. We have a motto we follow on this team: W.I.N. -- What's Important Now -- and what's important now is to find ways to get better."
Harbaugh, whose relationship with Cameron dates back to 1997 when they coached together at the University of Indiana, conceded the decision was "the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a coach" but said his responsibility is "to the whole team and what's best for them right now. We need a change."
In the end, it was an accumulation of disappointments that drove Cameron out of the building, and now Jim Caldwell -- the same Jim Caldwell who served as quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, and, later, as the team's head coach -- has a chance to mollify the team's skeptics. It won't be easy. The Ravens play Denver, the Giants and Philadelphia, and two of those teams are division leaders. Moreover, the Broncos -- whom the Ravens play next -- are the league's fourth-ranked defense.
But if Caldwell is successful ... if the play-calling is more to Harbaugh's satisfaction than it has been lately -- he could take this three-game trial and turn it into a full-time job next season, just as Gilbride did. He works well with Flacco, just as he worked well with Manning, and success the next three games would make an offseason decision easy.