Carroll County Times

Change at offensive coordinator continuing to pay dividends for Ravens

NEW ORLEANS - Some players say it's the balance Jim Caldwell has brought to the offense. Some say it's the way that Caldwell's found a way to consistently incorporate all of the Baltimore Ravens' offensive playmakers. Some say it's the way Caldwell's prepared the offense in the week leading up to games. And some, even more so than anything specific Caldwell has done, talk about how much more comfortable, confident and in rhythm quarterback Joe Flacco is now than what he was under former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

But whatever it is that Caldwell's done, it's working.

Baltimore's offense is averaging 425 yards per game in the playoffs. The Ravens scored three second half touchdowns in their AFC championship win over the New England Patriots. They scored 38 points in their divisional round win over the Denver Broncos. And they racked up 441 yards in their 24-9 wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday will be Caldwell's seventh game as Baltimore's offensive coordinator after replacing the fired Cameron Dec. 10.

The Ravens struggled in their first game under Caldwell - a Dec. 16 loss to the Broncos. But aside from their regular season finale, during which most of the offensive starters rested, Baltimore has averaged 452 yards per game and 31 points per game in its other four games under Caldwell since that loss to December loss to Denver.

The Ravens' offense averaged just 309 yards per game in its final nine games under Cameron.

"Jim Caldwell has kept it simple for us," Baltimore running back Ray Rice said. "One thing that he's doing is utilizing the weapons we have. We have the talent, but we had a hard time sometimes trying to get everybody the ball. But right now, everyone's touching it and we're happy. We've always said that execution was one of the defenders. We've been executing better, and that's what it's all about."

Executing on a consistent basis had been one of the primary issues under Caldwell. There was also Rice's inexplicably limited workload at times. And, maybe the most glaring issue under Cameron, was the inconsistency and lack of noticeable progression from Flacco.

They were all issues that stemmed back even before this season and continued to be of concern prior to Cameron's dismissal the day after Baltimore's Week 14 loss to the Washington Redskins.

Following Cameron's firing, Caldwell was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.

"At that particular time, we were very inconsistent in a lot of different areas," Caldwell said. "So, the big thing was to try to get some consistency. ... [We also] weren't consistent enough in our running game. [We've given ourselves] maybe a little bit more of an opportunity to be successful - ran the ball more, put an emphasis on it and moved on from there."

The Ravens have run the ball on 53 percent of their offensive plays during the last five games under Caldwell after running the ball just 40 percent of the time in 13 games under Cameron.

Baltimore has rushed for an average of 163 yards per game in its last five games.

Rice had 131 yards and a touchdown during the divisional round win over the Broncos. Physical rookie Bernard Pierce combined with Rice to rush for 171 during the wild-card win over the Colts. The Ravens rushed for 206 yards in their regular season finale. And a week earlier, they accumulated a season-high 224 yards on the ground during their 33-14 Week 16 victory over the New York Giants.

"We just knew we wanted to mix up run and pass a little more," Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie said of the offense's mindset at the time of Caldwell's hiring. "We wanted to have a little more balance."

But it's been Flacco that has particularly flourished under the direction of Caldwell.

Caldwell spent 10 seasons on the Colts' coaching staff - six as the team's quarterbacks coach, one as an associate head coach and the past three seasons as Indianapolis' head coach - prior to joining the Ravens as a quarterbacks coach in January. While in Indianapolis, Caldwell was viewed as a primary influence in the development of then-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

And after an uneven first three-quarters of the season under Cameron, Flacco has thrived under Caldwell.

After being limited to 188 yards or less in six of his final nine games under Cameron, Flacco's thrown for an average of 291 in the last four games that he's seen a full workload under Caldwell. He's thrown 10 touchdowns without an interception in those four games.

In the playoffs, Flacco threw for 282 yards and two scores against Indianapolis, 331 yards and three touchdowns against Denver and 240 yards and three scores against New England.

"I think [the change at offensive coordinator] was the right move," Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. "When you look at the success that we've had since that point in the season, you can't argue that. Jim Caldwell's a great coach, and I think he's the right guy for our offense right now, and he does a great job preparing us.

"I know he's been instrumental in this run and in our offensive success of late, so you've got to say it was an important move."