So-called interim Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has turned things around considerably since taking over for the fired Cam Cameron, making him more than worthy of keeping the job permanently.
While the initial transition from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell as Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator wasn't perfectly seamless, the results the switch have produced in the few short weeks he's taken over the offense make a very strong case for him keeping the job permanently in 2013.
Though the Ravens have two losses in the time since the switch—Week 15 against the Denver Broncos, that was just days after Caldwell took over the offense and came as a result of a number of factors completely out of Caldwell's control, and Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals, after the Ravens had a postseason berth locked down and they chose to mostly rest their starters—the improvements we've seen cannot be attributed to anything other than Caldwell having greater control.
Caldwell joined the Ravens staff in the 2012 offseason as quarterbacks coach after spending the previous 10 years as quarterbacks coach, assistant head coach and then head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, working closely with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
The hope was that Caldwell could get more out of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who despite helping lead his team to the postseason every year he's been there, had been both inconsistent on a game-by-game basis as well as seemingly on a plateau in terms of his progress. His rookie season notwithstanding, in the three seasons from 2009 through 2011, he had nearly the same passing yardage totals (3,613, 3,622, 3,610), touchdowns (21, 25, 20) and interceptions (12, 10, 12).
His by-game performances were erratic, with six games in 2009, five in 2010 and seven in 2011 with under 200 passing yards and six in 2009, eight in 2010 and six in 2001 with over 250. Even in 2012, prior to Cameron's firing, he had five games with 250 or more passing yards compared with six with under 200.
Though Flacco has been excellent at times, at others he's been relatively bad for no real reason. The goal with him is to get his per-season yards and touchdowns to rise while reducing how wildly his pendulum swings.
While the sample size is small when it comes to Caldwell's time in Baltimore and even smaller when talking about his time in control of the offensive play calling, there are already signs that Caldwell's system has benefited Flacco. In every game save the Bengals loss, in which Flacco threw only eight passes, he's had over 250 passing yards.
More varied and aggressive play-calling have resulted in him throwing multiple touchdowns per game, and he's spreading the ball out more with his receivers running more, and more complex routes. Flacco had done everything he could do in the simplistic Cameron offense; with more freedom under Caldwell, we're starting to see where Flacco's true ceiling lies.
The run game has also benefited from the move to Caldwell. All season long came the cries that Cameron wasn't properly using running back Ray Rice nor his backup, Bernard Pierce. It wasn't just that the Ravens weren't running the ball enough—especially considering the talented weapon they had in Rice—it was also that they weren't running the ball in the right situations, putting undue pressure on Flacco in situations it could have been effectively diffused.
Though the Ravens' loss to the Broncos in the regular season saw them in a significant points deficit that didn't allow for much running, in subsequent weeks, the run game made up a bigger part of the overall offensive plan.
Though Rice didn't necessarily run more—24 carries against the New York Giants in the following week, five in the season-ender when he was pulled after a series or two, 15 rushes in the home wild card playoff win over the Colts and a whopping 30 over the Broncos in the Ravens divisional round victory—his runs mattered more. He's also had over 100 rushing yards in two of his last four games.
Pierce also became more valuable with Caldwell calling plays. In his last four games, Pierce has gotten double-digit carries in three of them—prior to that he had only reached 10 carries once. He, too, has broken the 100-yard mark in two of his last four games.
With Caldwell as offensive coordinator, the Ravens offense has looked faster and more modern. It's more unpredictable, with far fewer "why on earth did he call that?!" moments than when Cameron was around. He seems to have a good connection with Flacco and has been able to draw the quarterback out in ways that apparently wasn't possible when he played second fiddle to Cameron.
No matter how the Ravens' present playoff run ends, Caldwell has shown he's more than capable of running—and running well—Baltimore's offense. When it comes time for the team to make the decision on whether or not to keep him, the answer is remarkably clear—the job must remain Caldwell's. He's earned it.