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New offensive coordinator, whoever it may be, should stick with what Joe Flacco does best

With the Detroit Lions announcing that Jim Caldwell has been hired to be their next head coach, the Ravens are now in need of a new offensive coordinator. But despite the Ravens finishing 29th in total offense, one would think they won't choose a replacement who wants to make radical schematic changes.

The new coordinator's biggest priority will be getting the most out of quarterback Joe Flacco, who is a year into the monster contract extension he signed last season. While the Ravens need to get their running game going and they must find ways to get their wide receivers open, the centerpiece of this offense has to be Flacco, who can attack defenses all over the field with a right arm that is among the NFL’s strongest.

The vertical passing game the Ravens have relied on the past couple of seasons -- you know, the one that helped them win the Super Bowl just over a year ago, with Caldwell calling the plays -- features a lot of lower-percentage passes, but each one that Flacco uncorks potentially has a very high reward.

Among regular starting NFL quarterbacks, no one has chucked it up deep more frequently over the past two seasons that Flacco, who threw the ball at least 20 yards in the air on 15.7 percent of his attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2012, Flacco had 11 touchdown passes on such throws. In 2013, he had just one.

Yes, the erratic deep passing game can be frustrating -- and it was for much of this season, when Flacco wasn’t clicking with his receivers -- but it fits his skill set best.

I’m not sure how Flacco would fare in more of a timing-based attack, one that requires him to make shorter drops and get the ball out quickly. Flacco is prone to lapses in accuracy and only seven starters held the ball longer on average before throwing this season, according to Pro Football Focus, though scheme was a factor.

While Caldwell tweaked the offense with more crossing routes and throws over the middle and displayed much more formational flexibility than his predecessor, Cam Cameron, the Ravens offense wasn’t all that different than it was at the start of the 2012 season. In fact, Caldwell used three-wide sets more to open up the offense.

I suspect the Ravens will want to be more multiple and balanced next season, but it would be a surprise if they changed their core philosophies and went away from attacking defenses downfield. They drafted Flacco to fit in a vertical offense. They won a Super Bowl with it. And they paid big bucks to continue to build around him.

That’s why you will likely hear guys like Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner and Mike Sullivan mentioned as possible candidates to replace Caldwell should the Ravens go outside the organization (wide receivers coach Jim Hostler would probably be the most likely in-house candidate). Those coaches have coordinated vertical offenses.

Whoever the Ravens bring in, he will have his hands full fixing an offense that couldn’t run the ball, didn’t block well, had a non-existent screen game and didn’t produce as many chunk plays. His fingerprints should be all over the new offense, but I suspect the blueprint will still include plenty of deep throws from Flacco.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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