The heat is on Cam Cameron as Ravens offense tries to bounce back

Coordinator's relationship with Joe Flacco will continue to be questioned if struggles continue

October 29, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Two days after the Ravens posted their worst offensive showing in years, Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco wrapped up practice by having a quiet conversation as they left the field. Calling it a conversation, however, might be a bit of a stretch.

Cameron spoke several times, and Flacco occasionally nodded, but the two men barely made eye contact. Flacco, who at 6 feet 5 towers over Cameron, lingered a few paces behind the offensive coordinator.

He occasionally said something, but for the most part, he stared at his feet or into the distance. The conversation didn't end so much as it simply faded out. Eventually, Flacco drifted toward the locker room and Cameron toward his office. Very little about the scene suggested contempt for each other, just weariness.

These days, as outside pressure mounts and the offense sputters, Flacco and Cameron look a bit like an old married couple that has slowly grown apart. While it might be unfair to make sweeping judgments based on the limited moments they interact in front of the media, it seems fairly obvious their relationship is not exactly harmonious.

Even though the team is a respectable 4-2, the fan base broke into daily brawls last week over which of them deserves the majority of the blame for the Ravens' offensive woes in 2011.

Frustration morphed into outright anger after the Ravens failed to get a first down for nearly 40 minutes in a 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night.

While Flacco certainly has an army of detractors — an army that has clearly recruited new members in light of the fourth-year quarterback's inconsistent play this season — it's fair to say the majority of criticism is still being directed at Cameron. His name is practically a dirty word in Charm City these days. Even head coach John Harbaugh had to acknowledge the immense scrutiny his offensive coordinator is under.

"I think we all deserve to have fingers pointed at us when the offense plays like that," Harbaugh said. "It's just a bad performance, and everybody knows it. Cam's got broad shoulders. He's a tough guy. And he's been doing this for a long time and everybody in the building respects him, and nobody's going to fight harder to make this offense achieve what it's capable of achieving."

Injuries have hurt offense

In Cameron's defense, it should be pointed out that the Ravens haven't exactly been able to field the offense they envisioned during the preseason. Cameron isn't the one missing blocks or failing to get open against press coverage. Wide receiver Lee Evans, expected to be the team's primary deep threat this year after he was acquired from the Buffalo Bills for a fourth-round draft pick, has missed four straight games with an ankle injury. And left guard Ben Grubbs, maybe the Ravens' most underrated player, hasn't played since Week 1 with a toe injury.

In Grubbs' place, the Ravens have been forced to start Andre Gurode, a backup center, at a position he hasn't played in more than eight years. And while Gurode has willingly taken on an unexpected role for the good of the team, the results haven't been pretty, especially recently. Gurode had a dismal game against Jacksonville, repeatedly getting beaten by the Jaguars' quicker defensive linemen.

"I don't think anybody had any idea I was going to be playing left guard when I came here," Gurode said. "I think I've done OK, but there are certainly a lot of things I could have done better."

But injuries can't explain away all of the Ravens' offensive woes. The team is ranked 20th in the NFL in total offense, but the methods the Ravens have used to arrive there is one reason Cameron is drawing so much heat. Even though the Ravens are struggling to protect Flacco, he has thrown 211 passes (35.1 per game) and the Ravens have run the ball 156 times (26.0 per game).

That might not be as big of a problem if Flacco were completing more than 52 percent of his throws, by far the lowest percentage of his career.

Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs might as well have been channeling the frustrations of many fans when he pointed out how "baffled" he was that Ray Rice carried the ball only eight times against the Jaguars.

And Cameron didn't deny, looking back, that it was a mistake to fail to get Rice the ball more.

"Everything that has been said, there is some truth to it," Cameron said. "I think we acknowledge that."

Coordinator-QB rapport

No aspect of Cameron's job has been under the microscope more than his relationship with Flacco. It's no secret Flacco had a good relationship with former quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, and that Zorn often mediated between him and Cameron last season. When Zorn was fired by the Ravens at the end of 2010, Cameron took over the majority of Zorn's responsibilities.

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