When things go right in an organization of any industry, it’s easy to pick out who has done their job properly and who needs to pick up the pace. When problems arise and the organization becomes desperate as their success hinges on a crucial week of productivity, accountability issues arise and critics everywhere start playing the blame game.
The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in position for a potential playoff berth, but they no longer control their own destiny as they face a plethora of scenarios that could clinch them a bid and a sixth-straight postseason under head coach John Harbaugh. Ultimately, the Ravens need to win and the Miami Dolphins or the San Diego Chargers have to lose or tie in their respective contests for Baltimore to make the playoffs. Baltimore can also tie and have the Dolphins lose and the Chargers lose or the Ravens can tie and have the Dolphins tie and the Chargers lose to clinch a playoff berth. Baltimore can only get into the 2013 NFL postseason with a loss if the Dolphins, Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers lose or tie.
All of these complicated scenarios would have been avoided if the Ravens had simply taken care of business and defeated the New England Patriots, but that didn’t happen. This team’s mantra was to win ugly year round, drop disappointing, close games to teams they should have beaten and hope the rest of the AFC doesn’t bury them in the dust. Thankfully, the last part came true, but there are still a boatload of questions encompassing this organization as they head into their final showdown in Week 17 on the road for their playoff lives against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Everyone has noticed how the running game has been in the doldrums all season long. Joe Flacco hasn’t played like a $120 million quarterback — 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions this season — even though he received market value when the time came to make a decision for a contract extension in March. Dennis Pitta hasn’t been bad, but his presence hasn’t ignited a new fire in their offense so many expected upon his return to the lineup after missing the first 12 games of the regular season. The offensive line has been suspect from bookend to bookend.
But how responsible should the coaching staff be, in particular John Harbaugh‘s offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, for the offensive ineffectiveness for virtually 15 weeks? Keep in mind: the Ravens have only scored 30 points once this season all the way back in Week 3 against the Houston Texans — Daryl Smith had an interception return for a touchdown and Tandon Doss returned a punt to the house.
First and foremost, Caldwell didn’t hire run game coordinator Juan Castillo. Castillo’s zone-blocking techniques have been rendered ineffective for the majority of 2013 and don’t fit the traditional mold of what this team’s identity was prior to his arrival. Baltimore has always been a power-running team who relied more on pulling guards and tackles rather than creating holes with 45-degree steps and allowing the patience of the running back in the backfield to take over.
That being said, even though Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have been miserable in this new offensive scheme, Caldwell hasn’t changed much since the bye week, when, if you can recall, Harbaugh stated changes needed to be made.
What has changed? Not much.
For as much as Cam Cameron was beaten to death during his tenure as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, Caldwell has dodged multiple bullets in what is his first-year as a full-time offensive coordinator. Vonta Leach has become virtually invisible in this now one-back offense — he might somehow make the Pro Bowl. At times, it looked like the “chuck it up to Torrey Smith or Jacoby Jones and hope they catch it” plays were the only serious over-the-top threats in the playbook. The calls on third and short and fourth and short have been questionable to say the least.
But how much of it is Caldwell’s inexperience and how much is it the talent at his disposal?
Being the brain trust of this offense, Caldwell should receive more criticism than he has, but this is still Harbaugh and Flacco’s team when it comes down to it. They are the two right-hand men in the operation and will shoulder more blame because of who they are.