Cameron: A Decisive, Balanced, Aggressive Play-Caller
HARBAUGH: "THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT"
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- William Shakespeare probably wouldn't have wanted Hamlet to be his offensive coordinator. After all, who wants a play-caller to be pondering, "To pass or to run? That is the question" when he has less than a minute to make a decision?
But offensive coordinators and play-callers have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for as long as any football observer can remember.
- New England's Bill Belichick was raked over the nationwide coals for a fourth-and-2 pass play that failed at Indianapolis when most believed he should have punted and trusted his defense to stop Peyton Manning.
- Longtime Colts fans still wince when recallling Ted Marchibroda's allegedly-conservative approach toward the end of the 1977 divisional playoff against Oakland, a game Baltimore lost in double overtime.
- Ravens partisans were talking for weeks about Brian Billick's three consecutive second-and-1 pass plays in a 2007 five-point loss at Buffalo, the first in what would become a club-record nine-game losing streak.
But third-year Ravens offensive coordinator Malcolm "Cam" Cameron has firmly cemented himself as one of the most balanced and daring play callers the Ravens have ever had.
That has never been more true than during last Sunday's pivotal AFC North Division win at Pittsburgh.
Even with injuries to fullback Le'Ron McClain and tailback Willis McGahee, and with Ray Rice playing but still nursing a bruised knee, the Ravens ran the ball 27 times against the Steelers while passing it on 38 occasions (including sacks allowed), a more-than-acceptable balance.
But even with seven Pittsburgh defenders in the tackle box, Cameron dialed up a four-wide set and had quarterback Joe Flacco take two straight shots in the end zone from the 2-yard line. The gambit momentarily failed, but four straight Flacco bullets on the next possession culminated with the game-winning 18-yarder to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"I don't think there's a better play-caller," head coach John Harbaugh said after the win. "We can ... be frustrated and disagree with calls when they don't work. But Cam doesn't let that get to him. He doesn't let it bother him. ... He's very aggressive as a play-caller and to me, that's what you want."
In the modern-day NFL, aggressive play-calling entails using every option at one's disposal. On the surface, that seems to clash with longtime Ravens fans' perception of the team as a run-first outfit. But while Baltimore still likes to run the ball with its three-headed monster, it realizes identity is irrevelant while success is paramount.
"Everybody’s view of an identity is different," Cameron pointed out last week. "Some people want to throw it more, some want to run it more, some want to be balanced. Everybody has their opinion. And I think that’s what’s great about football in general -- about the National Football League -- is everybody has opinions of what someone’s identity is. For us, it’s going to vary from week to week, and that’s just the way it’s going to be right now. You don’t attack every defense the same."
That sort of reputation was already on Cameron's resume when he arrived in Baltimore as part of Harbaugh's staff. In fact, his was the first coaching-staff hire to be announced, coming just four days after Harbaugh was tapped to lead the team in January 2008.
In five years as the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator, Cameron did have plenty of outstanding talent with which to work in quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Antonio Gates and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
But Cameron's 2006 squad was the jewel in the crown. In his final year with the team, San Diego went 14-2 and earned the top AFC playoff seed while scoring a team-record 492 points.
Perhaps more impressive San Diego was the only team in the league to rush for more than 2,500 yards and pass for over 3,400 yards. The run-pass ratio was plus-28 (522 runs, 494 passes), and the Chargers scored touchdowns on a whopping 67 percent of their red zone opportunities.
In Baltimore, things have gone even better.
Cameron's first Ravens squad posted a club-record plus-126 ratio (552 runs, 466 passes), led the league in average possession time per game (33:10) and advanced to the AFC championship game from a wild-card slot.
Last season, the Ravens fielded a 3,000-yard passer (Flacco), a 1,000-yard rusher (Rice) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Derrick Mason) in the same year for the first time in team history.
Through the first quarter of 2010, the Ravens are converting more than 43 percent of their third-down tries and have a respectable minus-38 ratio (112 runs, 150 passes). That could serve them well this Sunday against a Denver Broncos team with passing-game explosiveness but very little balance (101 runs, 186 passes).
Baltimore has its three-running back attack, plus three wideouts (Mason, Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin), each wih more than 500 career catches, 6,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, the first team in history to possess such firepower.
"Our players know we have confidence in them," Cameron said. "We’ve got a lot of guys that can help us win ... and our guys are buying into that -- that you’ve got to be ready to make that one play that can make the difference in the game. If two come, then be ready for two, then three, then four. You work from there. We’ve got a great group of guys.
"I guess our identity is, ‘Be ready when called upon, and execute the play call.’ And I think our guys are doing that.”
But before that can happen, it takes someone to make the call in the first place.
To pass, or to run? With Cameron, the call will come quickly, and it will work out more often than not.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: At times, Billick and Marchibroda called their own plays and acted as their own offensive coordinators. Besides those two and Cameron, how many offensive coordinators have the Ravens officially had?
The answer will be revealed in this afternoon's post.
Posted October 6, 2010