January 15, 2012
3. The amount of pressure on Cam Cameron this week is going to be enormous. And frankly, it should be.
I've said for two seasons that it's really hard to evaluate Cameron and the job he's doing, because we don't get to watch the coaches film, we don't know how much Flacco is audibling, and to be fair, Cameron knows a lot more about football than any armchair internet columnist like me. It would be silly to argue otherwise. All we can really judge is the results, because football is a results-oriented business.
Well, the results on Sunday were mediocre. At best.
Sure, the Ravens were able to win, and ultimately that's all that matters in the playoffs. This isn't Dungeons and Dragons, and no one earns experience points for an impressive victory. But I think we can go ahead and say if the Ravens go seven consecutive possessions without getting points against New England, which is what they did against the Texans during a span that lasted the 2nd, 3rd and most of the 4th quarter, they'll lose by at least two touchdowns. The Pats are just too good to have a dry spell that long.
Harbaugh mentioned after the game that the Texans were in an all-out run blitz a lot of the time, and Flacco kept audibling into passing plays, which explains some of the head-scratching short-yardage calls. But one way or another, the Ravens have to figure out a way to convert more of those third-down plays. If the Patriots walk eight men up to the line of scrimmage, then maybe try to throw the ball to Dennis Pitta over the middle instead of launching a pass down the sidelines to Torrey Smith. One way or another, get Pitta more involved, since he's the only guy on offense who never drops a pass.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret -- the Ravens are going to have a lot of trouble covering New England's two stud tight ends. New England doesn't go vertical like the Chargers did, but those two tight ends destroy linebackers and safeties when they get the ball in space, and pass coverage from the Ravens linebackers hasn't exactly been a strength this season. Cameron and Flacco and Rice are going to have to put up points if the Ravens want to win. This isn't the era of Trent Dilfer, so don't invoke his name this week. Baltimore isn't going to be able to win simply by handing it off, or by playing field-position football. They're going to have to match the Patriots a few times score-for-score, and then create turnovers. They can't afford to get stuffed on 3rd-and-1 multiple times and let Tom Brady have extra chances. The defense will get worn down too quickly.
I know the Ravens pride themselves on playing great defense, and I suppose it's possible Bernard Pollard could blitz through the line of scrimmage on the first series and knock Tom Brady out for the rest of the game. But that's unlikely to happen. And if it does, Roger Goodell will probably force the Ravens to forfeit while he hurries to Kraft's luxury box to dry Gisele's tears.
I still think Baltimore needs to put up 28 points, minimum, to get to the Super Bowl. That's not unrealistic. It's something they've done six times this year, although one of those games was against the Jets, where the defense scored three touchdowns, so it's really more like five. But New England scored at least 30 points in 13 games this year, if you count Saturday's thrashing of the Broncos. And while it's true the Patriots played a softer schedule this year than the Ravens, the chances of Baltimore winning a 17-14 game in New England feel microscopic.
This is going to be the moment that either makes or breaks Cameron as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. That may sound harsh, but that's how this business works. Steve Bisciotti said he liked the idea of Cameron "under fire" at the end of last season, and now we've arrived at the furnace. Get to the Super Bowl, and you'll almost certainly be back next year. Fall short, though, and I think we all know what's likely to happen.