Last Sunday morning the Ravens took a bus ride to Landover, MD. After a frustrating home loss against the Steelers the previous week, the team held a tenuous 2-game lead in the AFC North. Even though these Ravens were 9-3, the nature of the loss to their division arch rivals seemed to indicate that this was a team in decline. Indeed, many in the NFL chattering class questioned if the Ravens could even make the playoffs.
The Redskins game, therefore, took on outsized significance. With the Steelers facing a weakened Chargers squad and the Bengals playing at home against a beatable team from Dallas, the contest in Landover became a “make or break” proposition for the Ravens. Even I wrote that the game would determine which path the Ravens had chosen to trod – the one to redemption or the one to mediocrity…
Not to dwell on bad news, but the Ravens lost. You could call it a heartbreaker, and there were some tense moments and critical errors made in the waning minutes, but regardless of the cause they lost.
Then something crazy happened. Both the Steelers and the Bengals lost unexpectedly. Therefore, on the bus ride home to Baltimore, the Ravens found themselves sitting on top of the AFC North by the same 2-game lead with which they started the day.
That’s when Joe Flacco penned his Christmas card to Philip Rivers.
This is not to say that the loss was meaningless. A Denver win and Houston collapse have more than likely knocked the Ravens out of their chance at a number #2 playoff seed. Winning the division, however and having at least one home playoff game no longer seems impossible – even with a formidable schedule remaining.
The Ravens, therefore, retain sole control of their ability to play football deep into January and February. To turn this dream into a reality the Ravens must improve on both sides of the ball.
That’s when Coach Harbaugh fired off a pink slip to Cam Cameron.
Despite much of the feigned shock by sportswriters and former players, this move seems completely reasonable to me. Contrary to an act of “desperation” as some have claimed, I think it represents an insightful understanding of how to make the most effective changes in the least amount of time. A CEO might describe it as identifying the appropriate lever to immediately “move the needle.”
In X’s and O’s I think the decision represents Harbaugh’s understanding that the defense’s issues are structural in nature. In other words, despite the possible return of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, the unit remains plagued with injuries and some areas where it lacks depth and the dominant skills of past teams. These deficiencies can only be overcome with time, a draft, and free-agency.
Lacking a quick fix on the defensive side of the ball, Harbs was forced to determine the best way to ramp up the offense’s ability to put points on the board. Unable to make sweeping changes to player personnel, he decided to change the play caller. How much a new play caller can “move the needle” remains to be seen, but given the need for change and the same choices, I’m convinced that a majority of winning NFL coaches and owners would have arrived at the same conclusion. I’m sorry that it ended this way for Cam, he has been a net positive for the Ravens organization since joining it in 2008. That said, as a professional, I’m sure he understood the decision.
So which path from my column last week did the Ravens choose? Redemption or Mediocrity? We don’t yet know. Thanks to Rivers and Romo the Ravens have another week to make that decision…
BTW – good luck to Jim Caldwell in his new role as Offensive Coordinator. If this goes well, perhaps he will have been the Ravens’ best off season acquisition.