Ravens hope bold change yields immediate benefits
Sometimes, good coaches and good players don't agree, and they get at cross-purposes, and the players stop listening to the coaches, and a boss has to see that, and the boss has to say it's time for a change -- even at an incredibly inopportune time, as the one Baltimore coach John Harbaugh picked this week to fire Cam Cameron in the home stretch of an NFL playoff season.
We all could see why. Cameron has been an offensive coordinator or head coach 11 seasons in the NFL, and nine times he has directed a team in the top of the league in scoring. That's a good record. And he's a good man. But the Ravens offense was stagnant, unimaginative and wasn't using its weapons to the fullest. Ten backs had more carries than Ray Rice, which shouldn't happen. Should Arian Foster have 80 more? Doug Martin 46 more? Should Rice have more than 20 carries twice in 13 games? No, no and no. And when Rice isn't happy -- he was respectful toward Cameron on the phone with me Thursday, but I hear he wasn't pleased with the direction of the offense in the last month -- that's going to be infectious, and not in a good way, to the rest of the team.
The Ravens could have been professional about it and gotten rid of Cameron at the end of the season, which most teams do. But why? This is not a team that's going to stone anyone on defense anymore, and if you can't count on the offense to consistently score in the high 20s in January, the Ravens were going to be one-and-done (or, charitably, maybe two-and-done) in the AFC playoffs. But this wasn't a team built to compete with New England or Houston. Maybe the Ravens will crash and burn with Jim Caldwell calling the plays, starting Sunday in a bad matchup against the Broncos in Baltimore, but it seemed clear they weren't going anywhere with Cameron calling the shots anyway. Why not take the shot?
"What Cam has done is definitely more good than bad,'' Rice told me Thursday. "But we reached that stagnant point. What are we going to do to make it to that next level? We have to get hot, and we have to do what's best for right now, and that's what this move by coach Harbaugh was about.''
Rice said he wasn't concerned about his numbers, which are down from 18.2 carries to 16.8 per game. "But I know I'm important to this team, and I think I can be doing more,'' he said.
Caldwell, Rice said, "has our attention'' after the first three days of running the show in Cameron's place. And Rice said he takes hope from what the Giants did a year ago -- playing inconsistently, being 7-7 with two weeks to go, and rallying to win the Super Bowl.
"What matters,'' Rice said, "is how you're playing late in the season. And like Ray [Lewis], who is my crutch to lean on, says, 'It's a journey, and sometimes it's not smooth. Don't question the journey. Just go with it.' ''
If the Ravens are going to go on the journey, they'd be smart to ride the horse in the backfield more. Look for that to start Sunday.
About Last Night ...
We all knew a victory would set up a Week 16 playoff game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, which still appears to be on the horizon (assuming the Steelers beat Dallas Sunday at Dallas Cowboys Stadium). But one takeaway from Thursday, and the only good news we've seen on defense for the Eagles all season, is that Philadelphia finally attacked a quarterback with the kind of vengeance they should have been attacking with all season. Rookie Fletcher Cox and veterans Trent Cole and Brandon "No Longer A Bust" Graham harassed Andy Dalton with a six-sack performance that was the only sign of good things to come that I could see out of Philadelphia. Amazing how ineffective the Philly pass rush has been for the vast majority of the season -- and it's reason enough when cleaning house after the season to not stop with Andy Reid and the offensive side of the ball.
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