Cameron works new wrinkles in as young offense begins to unfold

October 28, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

While the players were slapping high-fives and the city was buzzing about innovative play-calling, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seemed embarrassed by the attention.

That's because Cameron understands the basics of the game so well. You can fool teams only so often, and when it comes to playoff time, it's all about fundamentals and game-breakers.

It's a time when the frauds are exposed.

"I want the guys to play hard, I want them to be excited," Cameron said. "But I don't want them to forget what we're about and what we need to do to win games. We can't depend on these kinds of plays. We're not going in trying to trick anybody."

That's what makes Cameron so good. Privately, he has walked into general manager Ozzie Newsome's office and asked about getting some explosive players.

Publicly, he could have complained about the money spent on defensive players compared with offensive players. And made excuses about developing young quarterbacks. But we've seen none of that.

Instead, on game days we've seen him squeeze about as much production out of this offense as possible yet at the same time continue to lay his foundation for the future.

It has been a good blend.

Trick plays can mask inadequacies, and the Ravens have quite a few. They have a one-dimensional offense built around running the ball. You could get away with that philosophy in the 1950s, 1960s and maybe the early 1970s, but not now, not with the way defenses attack.

It's getting harder and harder to produce three or four long drives a game, especially if you have a rookie quarterback without a big-play receiver and two starting offensive linemen out because of injuries.

So Sunday was the perfect time for Cameron to pull out the tricks, especially against the Oakland Raiders, a team that has little organization from the owner down to the players.

"Most of the time, they play man-to-man, certainly more than any team we've played this year, so this was the time to use some of it," Cameron said.

The Ravens unveiled a two-quarterback offense with Joe Flacco and backup Troy Smith, and that formation accounted for 65 yards and 13 points.

Unlike the other so-called geniuses in the NFL, Cameron had no name for the new package.

"I just call it two quarterbacks," Cameron said. "It's not like no one has used it before. I saw it used in Pittsburgh with Antwaan Randle El. My dad used it in college when I was a kid."

He also inserted defensive tackle Haloti Ngata into the goal-line offense as a tight end, and running back Willis McGahee followed a block by Ngata into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.

The Ravens used more motion Sunday than they had in previous games, causing some miscommunication in the Raiders' secondary. Todd Heap moved around as much as tight end Antonio Gates did when Cameron was running the offense in San Diego.

"We don't move just to move. It's not for window dressing, it's because it matters," Cameron said. "Against some teams, it matters, and against others, it doesn't. Our movement will vary from week to week."

With Cameron, you get the impression it's never about show, but always about business. It's never about him, but always about his team.

Since he has been with the Ravens, we've seen a double-reverse pass, a flea-flicker and a variety of screens.

We've seen an unbalanced line, a no-huddle attack, the shotgun formation, the use of a three-halfback running attack and a jumbo offense that sometimes includes three offensive tackles, one defensive tackle and two fullbacks.

Fans in Baltimore aren't used to these kinds of innovations.

Yet at the same time, the Ravens haven't strayed from their strength of running the ball. Against Oakland, the Ravens rushed for 192 yards on 46 carries.

But opposing teams now have to do more than just stack the line of scrimmage to prepare for the Ravens' running game. Opposing defensive coordinators have to study more formations and know when Smith is in the game.

The Ravens should play the Raiders every month, because we all know these formations won't catch any other team off guard again, especially a team with a disciplined defense.

But the intriguing part to all this is watching what wrinkles Cameron will add to these formations and what happens with this offense once Flacco develops and the Ravens get a big-time receiver.

"The sky is the limit," Smith said. "We are young. Very young. We've got a glass ceiling on top of this team, so we can do nothing but get better."

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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