The Baltimore Ravens' firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with three games remaining comes across as a panic move. Teams headed to the playoffs rarely make such major changes like this.
But make no mistake: This is the right move. Joe Flacco has been too inconsistent. Ray Rice isn't being used enough. The Ravens' offense has been sleepwalking, and an aggressive move like this one can provide a spark. This is a gutsy call by coach John Harbaugh. With Cameron directing the offense, the Ravens have been to the playoffs the past four seasons and lead the AFC North this year. But teams don't get to the Super Bowl by playing it safe or sticking with the status quo.
“It’s not about fair or unfair, right or wrong,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “My responsibility is to the whole team and what’s best for them right now. We need a change. Our plan and our goals are to win games, win our division and get to the playoffs.”
This was far from a knee-jerk reaction for losing two straight games. It was two years in the making. There was talk of the Ravens dismissing Cameron a couple of years ago but they kept him because they didn’t want to change offensive systems during the NFL lockout when there were no offseason workouts.
The Ravens brought back Cameron before this season on a one-year deal. If Harbaugh already had decided (perhaps with a nudge from owner Steve Bisciotti) that Cameron wasn’t coming back next season, why wait until after the season? That makes no sense. If Jim Caldwell was going to be the offensive coordinator next season, he should be the guy calling the plays for the final three games and the playoffs.
The Ravens are too talented on offense to rank No. 18 in the league right now. The highest ranking under Cameron was only 13th in 2009.
"My charge -- our responsibility 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," Harbaugh said. "With our coaches and players, the solution is in the building. We are going to make the most of our opportunities going forward, and this change gives us a better possibility to achieve our goals."
While it was the right move to part ways with Cameron, it remains to be seen whether Caldwell will do any better.
Caldwell has never been an offensive coordinator in his career. He has been an NFL head coach, a quarterbacks coach and a wide receivers coach.
What he has working for him is his relationship with Flacco. Cameron and Flacco never saw eye-to-eye, which may be the reason why Flacco looked like a top-five quarterback one week and a bottom-five one the next. Flacco told the Baltimore Sun recently that he was frustrated by the team going away from the no-huddle offense.
To his credit, Cameron has made the Ravens' offense much better than what it was under former coach Brian Billick. Cameron just never reached the valid expectations for an offense that has a young quarterback in his prime and one of the best running backs in the league.
There were signs that not all was well with the Ravens' offense leading up to this move. The only touchdown scored by the Ravens in Pittsburgh came on special teams. Baltimore escaped San Diego with a win on a spectacular effort play on fourth-and-29 by Rice. The Ravens didn’t give the ball to Rice in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, when they failed to hold the lead. And Sunday, Flacco threw for 55 yards in the second half.
The biggest criticism I had about Cameron was the lack of touches for Rice and the lack of adjustments after halftime.
This move will be well received by the players, who have taken to Caldwell in his first year with the team. But the players are on notice now. The firing of Cameron says he was the problem. But Cameron didn't pass protect. He didn't fumble or throw interceptions.
If the Ravens fail to improve as an offense, the players are going to be the next ones held accountable.