Without Cam Cameron, We'll Know What the Ravens Truly Have in Joe Flacco

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVDecember 10, 2012

Without Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, will Joe Flacco flourish, or has he simply hit his ceiling?
Without Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator, will Joe Flacco flourish, or has he simply hit his ceiling?Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens relieved offensive coordinator Cam Cameron of his duties on Monday, just one day after the Ravens lost to the Washington Redskins, 31-28, in overtime.

The firing doesn't seem to be a direct response to the loss, but rather a reaction to how the offense has performed throughout the season—and, arguably, throughout Cameron's nearly five-year tenure. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell will take over the job, effective immediately.

Cameron's firing has been long called for by Ravens fans, who have been frustrated this season by the baffling, pass-first offensive approach that has kept the team's top playmaker, running back Ray Rice, criminally underused. 

But Cameron's problems extend beyond just this season. During his entire tenure in Baltimore, Cameron ran a very simplistic offensive system that allowed for little creativity. The result was the team never ranking higher than 13th in yards per game, never effectively employing a No. 3 wide receiver and, perhaps not coincidentally, never reaching the Super Bowl.

For years, the Ravens didn't need to have a flashy, hyper-productive offense, with their defense well known for being one of the best in the league. This season, however, the defensive side of the ball has been plagued with injuries, requiring the offense to take on more responsibility for the outcome of games. Despite this, there wasn't much of a significant uptick in their production.

Though Cameron takes the blame for the offense's shortcomings, the real test of whether or not Cameron was the problem comes next Sunday, when Caldwell—who has, by the way, never called plays as part of his job, from college through his NFL tenure—takes command of the offense. How quarterback Joe Flacco performs will ultimately determine whether Cameron was the problem or if it is actually Flacco.

Cameron, Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh all came to the Ravens in 2008, and Flacco has been the starting quarterback since that time. Season after season (save his first), Flacco hasn't changed much, with around 3,600 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions per year, and though he's on pace to surpass his usual yardage total (he has 3,220 at present), it looks like he'll yet again have the same number of scores and interceptions this season.

The issue is whether Flacco has reached his ceiling under Cameron, or whether this is simply Flacco's ceiling, period. The Ravens had to have been wondering the same thing, which is why they chose to bring Caldwell on this offseason to take over the quarterback coaching duties that were once Cameron's. 

At the start of the season, it seemed like perhaps things were going to change when it came to the Ravens' passing offense. Flacco was given more control and allowed to audible at the line, and there were more quick-passing, no-huddle plays thrown into the mix. As the season progressed, however, the no-huddle vanished—something that Flacco described as "frustrating" last week—and with it, Flacco's consistency.

In fact, Flacco has been one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks on a weekly basis since he's been in Baltimore. Though he ends season after season with practically identical stat lines, that doesn't serve to illustrate how he got there.

Take just the 2011 and 2012 seasons as examples: Last year, Flacco had six games with 250 or more passing yards and eight with fewer than 200. This season, he has five games with 250 or more yards and six under 200. It's hard to tell which Flacco will show up in a given week, regardless of how the plays are called or the strategy is laid out.

It's a major reason for the Ravens' two consecutive losses: the first being a rare home stumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers; the second being Sunday's overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, which saw Flacco throw three touchdowns in the first half, and then an interception and just 45 yards' worth of completions in the second.

The hope is that Caldwell—who spent years as the Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks coach, tutoring living legend Peyton Manning—will work some of that magic in Baltimore now that he's not beholden to Cameron's wishes.

However, Caldwell lacks play-calling experience and is also the man responsible for Curtis Painter—he who led the Colts into this year's No. 1 draft pick—so it will take a bit of time and evaluation before it's determined if the move is an upgrade or just an act of desperation.

While Baltimore's play-calling didn't enhance their strengths, it wasn't Cameron on the field executing the calls. Cameron wasn't over- or underthrowing his receivers, dropping balls or being sacked after holding on to the ball too long. He did, however, request that Flacco throw those passes that ended up killing drives, and it was he who failed to improve Flacco's pocket presence and not give Rice nearly the number of carries his talent—and his contract—would demand.

The move to fire Cameron needed to be made—if not now, then at the end of the season. There's no question about that. However, Flacco is in a contract year, set to be a free agent at season's end. Though it's highly unlikely he doesn't receive an extension from the Ravens, the nature of that contract will be determined by how he responds to this coordinator change.

The Ravens know what kind of quarterback Flacco was with Cameron calling the plays; the question now is if he becomes a different and better one without him, and what the next move is if he doesn't.