It's time for Cameron and Flacco to prove their worth

Offensive coordinator and quarterback must make right moves for Ravens to beat Patriots

January 16, 2012|Mike Preston

It's fair to say that both Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron feel they have been under-appreciated in their four years in Baltimore, but they can change that if they devise a game plan to beat the New England Patriots Sunday.

It's an opportunity for Cameron to put to rest the ghosts of all those failed offenses here during the last decade and Flacco to become the most famous quarterback in town since Trent Dilfer.

This city is still starved for offensive heroes, and a win might secure a long-term contract for Flacco, who has one year remaining on his current deal, and a job for Cameron.

Heading into the season, both Cameron and Flacco were considered X-factors as to how far the Ravens would go into the post season. Nothing has really changed.

There are few who know if Cameron will return next season and there is no guarantee the Ravens will pay Flacco big money if he can't deliver in big games.

But one thing is for certain: the Ravens can't be as vanilla as they were Sunday against the Houston Texans. The Ravens had only 227 yards of total offense and were fortunate to capitalize on two Texans turnovers.

"We've gone out there and played before," said Flacco. "We've gone on the road and played a championship game since I've been here. We didn't win that game. We have won in New England. They are one of the teams, just like us, that's tough to beat at home. They play very well up there, but we know how tough it is to go into a place like that, a place like here, and win a football game. So, we're going to have to make sure we prepare well all week and bring our A-game up there."

What exactly is the Ravens' A-game?

Well, no one knows because we haven't seen a lot of it. That certainly wasn't a top-level performance against Houston Sunday. The Texans deserve a lot of credit. They have one of the NFL's best defenses and few teams score a lot of points on them.

But the Ravens had no creativity. They basically either ran the ball or threw deep, very reminiscent of the Brian Billick era. They could get away with that against Houston rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, but not against the Patriots and Tom Brady.

New England is averaging 32.1 points and 428 yards per game. They have two great tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and a good little Munchkin receiver in Wes Welker. And Brady won't be tossing those lollipops into double coverage like Yates.

The Ravens have to manufacture some points.

"As an offense, an offensive guy, I would think so," said Flacco of having to score a lot of points. "At the same time, we have a good defense. The way they've played all year, the way they've played in the past, they put points on the board. So I think as an offense you have to go in there and put points on the board, too."

New England has given up plenty of points (21.4 per game) and yards (411.1) this season. The Patriots have been vulnerable against the run, but turned in a strong effort against Denver Saturday night in an AFC Divisional playoff game.

The question is how do the Ravens approach this game? Do they come in preparing for a shootout or stay with the running game?

That's Cameron's decision.

Since joining head coach John Harbaugh's staff, he has been under scrutiny for previous failures more than his own. But if Cameron wants to break out of those shadows, beat the Patriots Sunday.

Ever since the end of last season, Flacco has been trying to join the class of elite quarterbacks. He asked for a new contract and was told no. Twice within the last five to six weeks, he has voiced concern about limited passing opportunities in the Ravens run-dominated offense.

Well, if he outplays Brady Sunday, fortune and fame will come. The Ravens would love to give Flacco a long-term deal in exchange for a Super Bowl trophy.

But there are concerns. Since joining the Ravens, Cameron has been too eager to make a big splash with the passing game. When Flacco throws a lot, turnovers happen either in interceptions or him fumbling as a result of poor pocket awareness.

The Ravens should proceed with caution. If the Ravens can gash the Patriots with the run, stay with it and keep Brady off the field. One of the best things about this team is that Flacco is much more than just a manager of the game.

If needed, he has the big arm to make every throw and he has enough weapons in receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Lee Evans to make big plays. If the Ravens can win Sunday, it would eliminate a lot of pressure on an inconsistent offense.

And it might serve as a new beginning for both Flacco and Cameron.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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