Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco got the news via an early Monday morning phone call from coach John Harbaugh. Cam Cameron, the only offensive coordinator that Flacco has ever worked with in the NFL, had just been fired.
“I was definitely stunned,” Flacco said Wednesday.
The decision to let go Cameron and replace him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell remained the prevailing topic of conversation Wednesday at the Under Armour Performance, even as the Ravens accelerated their preparations for Sunday’s showdown against Peyton Manning and the first-place Denver Broncos.
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A couple of Ravens essentially acknowledged that change was probably necessary. Most of them wished Cameron well, as Flacco, running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Torrey Smith were among the players to contact the former offensive coordinator following Monday’s decision. Nearly every player, however, admitted that they were surprised that a team, which is 9-4 and has a two-game lead in the AFC North, made such a significant change this late in the season.
“This is something that I think is a wake-up call for everybody,” Rice said. “You never know when your day is going to be called. Nobody wants that to happen, but it’s a wake-up call for everybody around the building. The expectation is to win around here. We want to win. There’s a reason why you put the Lombardi Trophy [banner] in the indoor facility. It’s the only thing you can see. It’s the biggest sign in here.”
With Cameron calling the plays since the 2009 season, the Ravens have done plenty of winning. But the Ravens’ offensive inconsistency this season, a lack of significant progression from Flacco and a propensity for Rice to get lost in the game plan were among the factors in the organization’s decision to make the change.
The Ravens are currently 18th in the NFL in average yards (344.4) and ninth in points per game (25.5), but the expectations were much higher, both for the offense and for Flacco, who admitted that the offense has “probably” underachieved.
“I think as an offense, we have to look at ourselves and see what we can do to be better. Obviously, we weren’t good enough,” Flacco said when asked if he felt partly responsible for Cameron getting fired. “I think we’re working on becoming a very good offense around here and I think we all probably wish it would have happened a little bit quicker. But I think we’re still working toward that.”
Ravens left tackle Michael Oher said that Flacco “seems like he’s happy about [the change]. I’ve seen him smiling. I’m pretty sure he’s OK with everything.”
It’s no secret that Flacco and Cameron weren’t always on the same page. Just last week, Flacco expressed frustration in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that the Ravens abandoned the no-huddle offense. However, he was complimentary toward Cameron on Wednesday and said that a perceived disconnect between the two was overblown by the media.
“Listen, Cam has done so much for my career. He brought me here and trusted to bring me here, first of all. He’s just helped me every year I’ve been here, so I’ll never forget that. He’s been great for me,” said Flacco, who acknowledged that he’s spoken to Cameron since his firing. “Cam felt at peace and it was a good conversation, very natural. We did spend a lot of time together, and if that conversation was tough, I think that would have been a little bit crazy.”
Rice, who never publicly complained about his number of carries even though he’s on pace for his fewest touches since his second season, also said that he did some self-reflecting after hearing the Cameron news.
“I was looking back on two Pro Bowls in five years. I was looking back on the amount of receiving yards I have. I was looking back at so many of the good things,” Rice said. “I was able to start my career off with Cam Cameron. Right now, we are at a point in our season where we definitely have to focus a lot more and execute. Cam called a great game last week. Obviously, we didn’t win, but he doesn’t put on the pads for us so we can’t be naïve about that.”
Several Ravens said that they don’t expect to see many significant changes under Caldwell, who has never called plays as an NFL coach.
“The biggest thing obviously, [Caldwell] got the news the same time everybody else did so he’s had to gather himself and get ready to make this change pretty quickly,” said Flacco, who called Caldwell a great person and a great coach. “The biggest thing that we talked about is just coming together as an offense and everybody helping and giving their input because we’re going to need it. It’s a quick change, it’s late in the year and it’s going to require all of us to be focused and work hard and work together.”
Said Smith: “It’s our job to make Jim Caldwell the best coordinator in the league. Nothing has really changed. It’s just a different guy calling the plays.”
The change certainly has added to the urgency of the week. The Ravens have already lost two games in a row. Their defense continues to lose players to injuries at an alarming rate. And now, their offense, which has ranged from dominant to completely inept this season, has a new play caller, just in time for the Broncos’ fourth-ranked defense.
“It’s been fast-paced. It’s been a lot of work,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve really gone to work. It’s always a lot of work but probably more so than ever just to set the foundation as a little bit of a new course going forward. We’re running the same offense. As far as how we game-plan, it will have Jim’s imprint on it along with the rest of the coaches. It’s going to be fun to see how it practices today and how it looks. I know we’re all excited.”