Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron Not a Match Made in Heaven
I'm not sure who coined the phrase, "Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make," but they hit the nail squarely on the head in terms of the Baltimore Ravens and their, ahem, shall I dare to say, "franchise quarterback."
This past offseason, the Baltimore Ravens decided to wait on giving quarterback Joe Flacco a contract extension. This upset the fourth-year signal-caller, and during an interview with Ravens beat reporter Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun in April Flacco said, "I think I've established myself, if you're not confident with who I am, I'm not sure what a year is going to make."
I wonder how Flacco would approach that comment after last night's dismal performance against the now 2-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Flacco was horrible, and while he wasn’t well protected, he didn’t help his cause by failing to find open receivers and throwing an interception on the game's last drive with the Ravens trailing 12-7 and under two minutes to play.
Joe Cool was anything but cool with a nation watching on Monday Night football. Flacco was 21-of-38 for 137 yards with one touchdown and the one big interception. He was, as Skip Bayless called him this morning on ESPN's "First Take," Joe Cold.
I do not want to hear that the Jags have the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL as an excuse from the Flacco supporters. I do not want to hear that Jacksonville was not playing for anything and could let it all hang out against the Ravens.
Two weeks ago in Jacksonville, Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton threw two touchdowns and led his offense to 23 points during a 30-20 win. However, if you believe that the Jags' defense is that good and want to give out a little more credit than I am willing, then that brings me to the Ravens' second-biggest problem on offense: coordinator Cam Cameron.
Right now, would you give Joe Flacco a high-dollar, five-year contract extension?
Did Cameron happen to watch the tape of the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over Jacksonville last week?
Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who was hampered by a hamstring injury from the week before, ran all over Jacksonville last week. He shredded the Jags' defense with 146 yards rushing.
Well, you say the Ravens' offensive line has yet to come together as many had predicted.
I say, could the Ravens' offensive line have been any worse off Monday night than a Steelers offensive line that has had five different tackles and three different guards this season?
Ben Roethlisberger has been taking the Steelers to Super Bowls with inept offensive lines his entire career. Last season, Jay Cutler was sacked more than a bag of potatoes during harvest in Idaho, and he took the Bears to the NFC Championship Game.
There are no excuses for excluding the Ravens' biggest weapon from the game plan, and this is starting to become very frustrating for Ravens fans.
Simply put, where was Ray Rice in the game plan on Monday night, and when is Cameron going to figure out that Rice—and not Flacco’s arm—is the heart and soul of this offense?
I have said it before, and I will say again: Rice is the engine that powers the Ravens.
If defenses stop Rice early, the Ravens almost assuredly will struggle. Cameron abandons Rice and the running game quicker than the Republican Guard surrendered during the first Gulf War.
There are exceptions, like the game in St. Louis, but there are far more examples of Cameron trying to overuse Flacco and under-use Rice. Flacco is not capable of opening the offense for his all-purpose running back the way his all-purpose back opens it up for him.
Performances like Monday night should never happen with guys named Boldin, Rice and Leach. The Ravens had 16 yards in the first half and did not get a first down until Rice ran for 12 yards with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The offensive line's problems may also have something to do with Flacco's inability to properly read his coverages. Cameron is responsible for making sure they have the right reads for their blocks, and Flacco must help with that as the game progresses.
If Flacco cannot recognize where the pressure is coming from and when, then can't call an audible that changes the protection scheme, how is anyone else going to?
This will undoubtedly lead to finger-pointing and, in fact, did on Monday night.
Say what you want, but that is exactly what one of the Ravens' defensive stars did while talking to reporters following Monday night's game.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs told reporters, "It baffles me that Ray Rice only had [eight] carries, I don't really know what the game plan was," Suggs said. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back and he's not getting his touches, I'm going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball and I think we should feed him."
Suggs even mentioned that the Jaguars kept it simple and stuck with their Pro Bowl running back, Maurice Jones-Drew. Drew cracked the 100-yard mark against the Ravens' D, but he needed 30 carries to do it.
Suggs said about Drew and the Jags offense, "They kept it simple. Jones-Drew had 30 carries. His backup (Deji Karim) had 10 or 15. It baffles me that Ray Rice only had eight carries," Suggs said. "This (Rice) is a Pro Bowl running back we’re talking about. You’ve got to feed the horse. They fed their horse. We got to feed our horse."
Like Rice did, Jones-Drew struggled early in the contest. He lost a fumble at the goal line and found yards tough to come by, but the Jags stuck with him.
There are several factors at play here, and what the sportswriters in Baltimore may be afraid to tell you is, while Flacco may have good athletic ability, he lacks the proper football intelligence necessary to be an elite quarterback.
Cameron has a complicated offense and usually has a playbook that is thicker than War and Peace. This year, the playbook was simplified because of the lockout, and Flacco still seems to struggle at the line of scrimmage.
At times, Flacco and Cameron are like oil and water, and seem so far away from being on the same page it appears they are in two different books. This may be the reason why Flacco was also upset this past offseason when the Ravens fired his quarterback coach, Jim Zorn.
It is ironic that Zorn and Flacco seemed to hit it off. At present, Flacco is almost the same kind of QB Zorn was; he’s not elite, but he is a very good game manager who is sometimes capable of making big plays when his team needs them.
Flacco has one of, if not the best, arms in the NFL. He can make every throw, and there are times in a game when you think he can be the next Aaron Rodgers. Then there are games like Monday night when he looks more like the first quarterback the Ravens franchise ever started.
Despite what Ron Jaworski says, Flacco's footwork is still horribly terrifying to watch, he has trouble reading a defense that runs more than a base coverage scheme and unless he knows his progressions and they work out exactly after the ball is snapped, he's in trouble.
In other words, Flacco looks at read one, two or three in succession. If the play works out exactly as Flacco saw it on film, then he usually completes the pass. If he gets to the line of scrimmage and the play does not work out as he saw it, then forget it.
Quarterbacks must learn to rely on instinct and instead of going through the progressions, they must then find the gap or seam in the coverage.
Flacco has trouble doing this very thing, and if Rice is being shadowed as he was against the Jags and the Titans, then the Ravens' offense is usually looking at trying to convert 3rd-and-long. This became an issue starting last season, and this year, Flacco is completing just 52.1 percent of his passes.
This is exactly the reason Flacco looks great one quarter and bad the next. A few weeks back, the Jets completely adjusted every coverage scheme, then changed the way they lined up on the Ravens' receivers.
Flacco started like a ball of fire, as the scripted plays went according to plan. He converted several 3rd-and-longs that led to 10 points and a 17-7 Ravens lead. Flacco found every open receiver, while completing 8-of-17 passes for 142 yards.
As good as he was in the first quarter, though, he was as bad as he was in the second.
With a change in the scheme, Flacco went 0-for-10, took a sack and threw an interception that was returned 35 yards for a touchdown. He threw 12 straight incompletions at one point and did not complete a pass in the second or third quarter. Flacco finished the game 10-of-31 for 163 yards, one lost fumble, one pick-six and a passer rating of 37.4.
Flacco still does not control nor have the say on offense that a four-year starting QB in the NFL should have. It is not because Cameron is a control freak—it is because Flacco has yet to prove he can do it.
Despite all this, Cameron continues to try to make Flacco a downfield, elite NFL passer and because of this, will probably not be back in Baltimore next season.
Further proof that Cameron and Flacco are not on the same page is when the Ravens are trying to run something resembling hurry-up offense. It is horrible to watch, and against the Jaguars, the Ravens allowed as much time to lapse on the clock calling the play at the line of scrimmage as they would have if they had huddled up.
Monday night's game was not the first time we have seen this recently.
During the loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens had no sense of urgency in their game when they were trailing late in the fourth quarter.
The bottom line is Ravens fans must realize what they have in Flacco: an average NFL quarterback who could become a great game manager if the coaching staff—most notably the offensive coordinator—figures out what makes the offense run.
And yes, the pun is intended.
One thing is for sure, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome will not throw franchise QB-type of money at Flacco if he does not produce at least a conference championship appearance this season.
Newsome learned from the mistake he made back in 2000 when he allowed then-head coach Brian Billick to talk him into not re-signing Trent Dilfer as a good game manager and instead opted for Elvis Grbac.
Newsome knows it would nice to have an elite signal-caller, but he also recognizes the importance of having one who does not blow games with this defense. It was the clear intentions of Newsome and owner Steven Biscotti to force Flacco into proving he was worth the extension and the money.
So Joe, to answer your own question, this year has made a big difference in terms of what this organization has learned about how you will perform under pressure.
You've been average with high-dollar contract pressures on your shoulders and in the big stage of trying to become an elite NFL QB, average as well.
So far, you've been average, and that does not translate into a big-time, high-dollar extension. Without average play from Flacco in the Ravens' two losses, this team would probably be 6-0. With another offensive coordinator, one who knows how to utilize his weapons, possibly 5-1.
It may take another offensive coordinator and perhaps one or even two more years for Flacco to hit his ceiling, but he is not far away, and it is possible that we have seen him hit it already.
Unfortunately for Ravens fans, that ceiling is not quite as high as we had hoped.
I have never been one to get too high or too low on this whole Cameron-Flacco issue. However, if you are a Cameron-Flacco ledge-walker, it may be time to leave your fate in the hands of someone or something else on this team.
I am not holding out much hope for your football survival if you continue to leave your happiness up to these two. They are far from a match made in Ravens Heaven.
In fact, Edgar Allen Poe could probably write a great short horror story on the issue, because that is exactly how Cameron and Flacco performed in Monday’s loss—like a horror story.
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