Harbaugh says communication issues may have hindered offense

January 20, 2011|By Mike Preston

Despite an impressive showing in 2010, the Ravens are back where they were a year ago.

At the annual state of the Ravens dog and pony show Thursday in Owings Mills, the major players in the Ravens front office staff were basically asked the same questions as last season.

Will the Ravens sign a big, vertical threat at wide receiver? Is Joe Flacco the quarterback of the future? What happened to the passing game? Can the Ravens beat Pittsburgh (last year, it was the Colts) in a big game in the postseason?

There were few surprising answers but general manager Ozzie Newsome had a curious statement near the end when he stated that Flacco was no longer a young quarterback.

But head coach John Harbaugh probably dropped the best gem about the season when pulled aside and asked if there was a disconnect between Flacco, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and possibly quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn.

"That is legitimate," said Harbaugh. "There may have been some communication issues which resulted in Joe being hesitant at times. It's something we have talked about since the end of the season."

It wasn't a clash of wills, but more of two different schools of thought. Cameron is from the old "Air Coryell" system, the offense used by Mike Martz and Norv Turner. Receiving routes are numbered, and it has a more vertical and explosive passing game.

Zorn has always played in and taught the West Coast offense, a system predicated on short, timing passes made famous by former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh.

The problem is that Zorn had to learn Cameron's offense while at the same time trying to teach it and get Flacco ready for games. That never happened with former Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, who was an "Air Coryell" disciple.

"Jim had to learn it last season, and he now has a year under his belt," said Harbaugh. When asked if the Ravens might adopt the West Coast offense this season, Harbaugh said no.

And they shouldn't. Consistency is a key to success, and Flacco just finished his third season. But if you watched the Ravens play this season, you could see a disconnect with the offense.

The Ravens never found a rhythm. Flacco's statistics improved, but his mental game didn't. He had trouble finding his secondary targets, which forced him to go to his check-down receivers too quickly.

But maybe that's because he spent more time learning about plays and formations instead of his keys, which showed him where to place the ball. There were times when Flacco looked lost on the field, and there were questions about his leadership.

How could he lead? Peyton Manning and Tom Brady can lead because they know the intricacies of their offense. Flacco wasn't getting all the information.

But it wasn't just Flacco. This offense lacked attention to detail. Remember the Troy Polamalu sack? Somebody forgot to make a call. How about the quarterback sneak in New England? Somebody didn't check out of the play. There weren't any crossing routes and a pick play until the postseason.

Almost everything about this offense, from the running backs staying in their lanes, to the pass protection was off. Details were slipping through the cracks.

But that will change now, at least that's the hope. Harbaugh, who has spent most of his career coaching special teams, said he will be more involved with rebuilding the offense from the ground up. It's a smart move by Harbaugh, and now he is more accountable than just relying on Cameron.

In the past, Harbaugh seldom attended offensive meetings. But as the Ravens retool, Harbaugh will have a say on what he dislikes and likes, and what he wants to keep.

"I'll be involved with that along with the offensive coaches, and we'll rebuild the offense from the ground up," said Harbaugh. "But, I don't want to give you the impression that I'm going to do it. Cam drives that, and the offensive coaches drive that. We've got some, I think, some really smart, some really good coaches. We've got to go back and take a look at what we do and how we do it, and how we tie our players into it, and how we communicate it and if we're all on the same page."

It's part of the evolution of Harbaugh, part of the evolution of a head coach.

And the Ravens aren't done as far as the growing process.

According to a league source, when the Ravens played Atlanta this season, the Ravens were going to bench Flacco at halftime for Marc Bulger, but ultimately decided not to because Zorn thought Flacco might not be mature enough to handle the situation.

That's absurd. If you can't get it done, changes have to be made. Harbaugh is making them, and Newsome left no doubt that Flacco will no longer be considered a young quarterback.

"No, he's not a young quarterback," Newsome said. "He's not performing like a first-year quarterback in my estimation.

"What I have been able to see over the past three years is a guy that can make all the throws, a guy that has poise, a guy that has command of his offense. But, I also [see] a guy that can be inconsistent, not get it done at times. It's upon all of us to take him to the next level. What that next level is, I don't know. But, he's got to be a better quarterback in 2011 than he was in 2010. And I think that's all I would ask him: Be better than you were last year. I think Joe will be willing to do that."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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