I was recently chatting with a group of friends, all of which are committed Ravens fans. Much like the rest of the Ravens Nation, we were each proffering our theories on which of the Raven’s recent acquisitions will have the most impact this season.
Originally from Alabama, I naturally gravitated toward Courtney Upshaw. In addition to his ability to set the edge and stuff opposing runners, I argued that his acquisition gained significance after T-Sizzle’s injury. Others in the group mentioned Tommy Streeter, Jacoby Jones, KO, and Gino Gradkowski. Still others focused on defenders Asa Jackson and Christian Thompson.
In the middle of this expert examination by a group of amateur sports analysts, a friend’s 13-year old son opined that the Ravens best off-season acquisition wasn’t even a player. His view? The new quarterbacks coach, Jim Caldwell, was the best pick up.
After initially scoffing the idea, I reconsidered and realized that – if by “best” we meant the greatest ability to affect the Ravens’ Super Bowl prospects this year – he could very well be right.
First, whether due to trades, injuries, age, and/or increased offensive prowess of other teams it is unlikely that the Ravens defense will be able to carry this team as it has in the past. Second, all of the Ravens offensive weapons (new and old) are dependent on a single focal point – what military strategists might call a center of gravity. That focal point is Joe Flacco. Yes, the line must block. Yes, the receivers must get open and catch, and yes, Ray Rice must find holes, run through them and hold onto the ball. But none of this happens unless Joe uses the time he’s given, stays upright and gets the ball to the aforementioned play makers. Flacco has demonstrated the skills to accomplish these tasks, but coaching matters (reference his numbers with Jim Zorn as the QB coach vs without).
Jim Caldwell brings a wealth of experience to the position. Not only was he Peyton Manning’s QB coach during his first several seasons at Indy, but he also graduated to the head coaching job with that same club after Tony Dungy’s departure. Not only do I expect Joe to post better numbers under Coach Caldwell’s tutelage, but it is possible that those numbers will increase faster than anyone expects based on the creation of a virtuous cycle. A cycle where Joe’s success increases Cam’s confidence in his quarterback, which increases the flexibility he provides Joe, which increases Joe’s success, and so forth.
It will be an exciting year and all of the Raven’s off-season acquisitions will have a role in the team’s success. Looking deeper, however, it becomes clear that the best off season acquisition just might be Jim Caldwell. Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from the mouth of babes…