When the Baltimore Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron last Monday and replaced him with then-quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, the hope was that the problems that had plagued them on that side of the ball would begin to melt away.
However, that hope was perhaps a bit premature, as evidenced by Baltimore's 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Of course, it was going to take more than a handful of practices for a new offensive system to take hold. However, the change exposed that perhaps their issues have more to do with personnel than coaching.
Not helping matters for Baltimore were their extensive injuries on defense. Four of their five leading tacklers were out for the game—linebackers Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and Ray Lewis and safety Bernard Pollard—while Terrell Suggs, who tried to play through a torn biceps, was on and off the field throughout the game, clearly fighting through pain.
The struggles on offense and the defensive injuries were too much for Baltimore to overcome, and they've now dropped three straight games for the first time since October, 2009.
In the first half, the troubles were mainly on offense. The Ravens defense did a fairly strong job of limiting the damage that the Peyton Manning-led Broncos could do, holding Manning to 97 yards on his 13 completions. The run game again gave Baltimore's defense fits, allowing 93 rushing yards and a touchdown to Jacob Hester, but their ability to keep receiver Demaryius Thomas to just 13 yards in that span and neutralize any tight end passing was particularly admirable considering the circumstances.
On offense, the Ravens were simply a mess. Joe Flacco completed only seven of his 15 passes, for 78 yards—with 43 of those coming on one play. That play was part of a promising-looking drive at the end of the half that resulted in a 98-yard pick six, with Flacco being intercepted on the Denver 2-yard line by Chris Harris on a play he was stubbornly intent on forcing to Anquan Boldin. Flacco also fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Denver's Rahim Moore that eventually led to three Broncos points.
One assumption made after Cameron was replaced by Caldwell is that we'd see more no-huddle as well as more running. Though there were instances where the Ravens offense did speed things up, it wasn't too effective, as Flacco was seeing pressure from Denver's brutal pass rush regardless of the speed at which he got the ball out of his hands.
And the run game? It produced very little, both in the first half when the game had yet to get too far out of hand, and in the second half, when the Ravens had too much ground to make up to run the ball often.
Ray Rice had seven carries for 23 yards in the first half, Bernard Pierce five for 20; Rice ended his day with just 38 yards on 12 total carries while Pierce was held to his first-half total after suffering a concussion that had him miss the rest of the game. All told, Baltimore ran the ball only 19 times and for a total of 56 yards.
Injuries didn't help the Ravens' offensive cause, with both Pierce and wide receiver Torrey Smith suffering concussions, but the main issue was Flacco and his poor throws and inability to respond properly to pressure. These problems do not magically go away with a coordinator change—instead, it illuminates just how much work Flacco has yet to do to be on par with the Mannings of the world.
Flacco's only saving grace was Denver's season-long struggle to contain tight ends. Dennis Pitta caught seven of the 10 passes thrown his way for 125 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which was a 61-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Though it showed some promise for both Flacco and his offense, it was still too little too late. Flacco's inability to take advantage of the Pitta mismatch earlier on is one reason Baltimore put up zero first-half points. Instead, he was content trying to get the ball into Boldin's hands, and it didn't work—Boldin had no caches on his six targets.
With so many injuries on defense and their attendant issues, it's been important that Baltimore's offense step up. However, that simply hasn't been done on a consistent basis this season. The Ravens knew what they'd be up against this week with Manning's passing attack and the strong Denver running game coming to town, and they were aware of the possibility that the only way to win would be to outscore the Broncos rather than keeping the Broncos from scoring.
Manning ended his day completing 17 of his 28 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown and their lead allowed them to run the ball and eat clock. They did it with aplomb, rushing 45 times for a total of 163 yards, with Knowshon Moreno leading the way with 22 carries, 118 yards and a touchdown. As a result, they held the ball for 38:34, compared to just 21:21 for Baltimore.
There was nothing Flacco and company could do to keep pace. They had only four first downs in the first half and 12 on the day, converted none of their six first-half first downs and only one of 12 in the game—and that didn't come until a Pitta catch near the end of the third quarter.
Just a few short weeks ago, the Ravens were 9-2 and seemingly had a stranglehold on the AFC North title. Now, the division is seemingly up for grabs with Baltimore presently 9-5 and having two big matchups ahead of them. A shaky defense has now been paired with an offense in seemingly wholesale collapse and there are very few answers to be had with the season now in its most crucial stages.
The Ravens needs changes—improvements, really—on both offense and defense, and they don't have a lot of time to make them and to make sure they are the right ones. With Cameron out and Caldwell in, some of the plays and routes look changed, but the results are strikingly the same.
If the Ravens want to be a playoff team, they need to start looking like one, which means holding their own through all fourth quarters against postseason-bound teams like the Broncos. They didn't, and with Cameron already gone, who is left to blame?