After a struggling to find consistency all season and falling flat in the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens offense has been on the hot-seat this offseason. The offense’s struggles were the most frustrating part of last season, and the fans want to see some positive change.
When an offense has problems of any kind, the first inclination for anyone is to point fingers at the offensive coordinator. In this case, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has certainly received his share of the blame, and even before the loss in Pittsburgh, many fans were calling for him to be fired.
Unfortunately, firing the offensive coordinator doesn’t always fix the problem. In fact, it can make the situation much worse if the coordinator isn’t the real problem, and the Ravens understand that there were many team problems outside Cameron’s control that manifested themselves in the offense and ultimately caused the team to fall short.
“Sometimes it’s easier to replace somebody, and the fans, their frustration can’t lead us to offer somebody up for sacrifice for the things that went wrong because I have a litany of examples of our defense letting us down, too, that caused a lot of these things,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said.
“If you want to go through things, every position group had a failure, every coach had a failure, and it all added up to 13 wins and five losses.”
There are many things that the Ravens need to do better on offense, and firing Cameron would not help to fix their problems. The Ravens need to evaluate the entire offense and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Success in the NFL is all about maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses. In other words, they must play to their strengths.
For all the shortcomings last season, the Ravens actually had some success. We’ve already talked about how one of the Ravens’ biggest problems on offense was protecting Joe Flacco and that offensive line wasn’t the biggest issue. In fact, the Ravens’ offensive lineman all received good individual grades.
A recent article by Pro Football Focus, who grade individual performances instead of team performance, said that the Ravens offensive line is “[e]xtremely strong in the run game,” and the Ravens’ cumulative score for their offensive lineman ranked fourth in the entire league.
As easy as it is to point the finger at the Ravens offensive line, the fact is that they are actually the Ravens’ best offensive component. Their only issue is the lack of depth, but the Ravens addressed that by drafting Jah Reid this year. They need to continue to improving their offensive line and moving forward, should build their offense around their best players on the offensive line.
If the Ravens' biggest problem was protecting Flacco, but the offensive line was not primarily to blame, what exactly was the problem? There were countless factors, but as we’ve seen in the last article, the biggest factor seems to revolve around Flacco holding on to the ball too long.
In an article following last season, Fanhouse blogger J.J. Cooper showed that Flacco held onto the football longer than any other quarterback in the league. That led to 40 sacks, which were more than any other quarterback on Cooper’s list.
Holding onto the ball is an intolerable mistake for a NFL quarterback. Offensive plays are built around pass protection that will only hold up according to the play design. If the quarterback holds the ball too long, the pressure and sacks are his fault.
Of course, the struggles of the offense were not Flacco’s alone. The Ravens receivers are all possession-type receivers and take time to separate from coverage. There were many times where Flacco was standing in the pocket and looking down field, but the receivers simply were not getting open.
That was a huge problem and may have been the biggest underlying factor in the offense’s struggles all along.
The Ravens also addressed that problem in the draft by picking Torrey Smith, the speedy receiver from Maryland, and Tandon Doss. Both players bring more speed and youth to an older and slower receiving corps, but they will not be effective if Joe Flacco is unable to progress from last season.
There is no question that Flacco is improving. When you compare his progress to the progress of other franchise quarterbacks, he is on track, but the game football is not played on paper.
Flacco has struggled many times versus superior competition, and even though the receivers were having difficulties getting open, there were many times where Flacco simply didn’t see the field or didn’t rise to the occasion.
That’s to be expected from a young quarterback, but Flacco can no longer be considered a young quarterback. Flacco is entering his fourth year, and if the Ravens are going to truly succeed and win a Super Bowl, he needs to step up his game and take ownership of the offense.
"As we move forward this year, this will become Joe's offense. It won't be Cam's offense, it will be Joe's offense,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a conference call after the draft.
“I've been in the huddle with some great quarterbacks. And all of the great ones, they take ownership of the offense. It's their offense. Right now, that's where Joe Flacco has to get to in order for him to take it to the next step.”
There are many things that the Ravens need to do better on offense. They can start by building on their already strong players on the offensive line and utilizing their new speed and depth at the receiver position by spreading out the defense.
The Ravens' problems certainly were not all Flacco’s fault, and he needs to be appreciated for the progress he’s made and the success he’s brought to the team already.
However, the Ravens can only skip along the edge of greatness and will never be a championship team until Flacco truly takes command of the offense and rises above the elite teams in the league, something that he has yet to do in a playoff game.
There’s no question that Flacco has the talent. His progress up to this point seems to indicate that he will continue to improve, but simply progressing is no longer good enough for a Super Bowl contender like the Ravens. They need him to take a big step and take ownership of the offense.