OWINGS MILLS – Despite a languishing, underachieving offense once characterized as mediocre by veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason, oft-criticized offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is expected to return next season.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh threw his support behind Cameron even though he oversaw an inconsistent offense that struggled during the season and committed three turnovers during a disastrous third quarter of a 31-24 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
“Cam Cameron is our offensive coordinator,” Harbaugh announced Monday at the Ravens’ training complex. “And that’s how we’re going forward, and we’re going to go to work. I know Cam’s a tremendous coach, and I know what kind of man he is. I know he’s a humble guy.
“It’s the same guy who was the offensive coordinator three years ago when everyone said we surpassed our expectations. Yeah, we had a tough year statistically, but we did win a lot of football games with that offense. There are things we can do a lot better and we will go to work on those things."
Even with that strong statement from Harbaugh, Cameron isn’t necessarily a lock to return.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti could possibly overrule Harbaugh during meetings scheduled to take place at team headquarters in the next few days due to frustration with a revamped offense that still hasn’t reached the elite level.
If the Ravens were able to land an accomplished offensive coordinator like former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, who has strong ties to Harbaugh from their tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, then Cameron could be out of a job.
Privately, players complained about Cameron’s play-calling and game plans all season. They said that Cameron seemed to be oblivious to their displeasure.
During the same news conference that Harbaugh endorsed Cameron, he acknowledged that nothing is guaranteed.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Things can’t change,’ because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Harbaugh said. “Nobody’s promised tomorrow, and that’s just being honest. I can’t stand up here and make promises and oaths, but I like our coaches and I think we can have a great staff next year, and I’m confident in our guys.”
Behind the scenes, team officials have complained often about Cameron being rigid and unwilling to listen to input. Cameron’s red-zone play-calling has frequently been described as too predictable.
And quarterback Joe Flacco and Cameron have disagreed about the direction of the offense on several occasions.
Nonetheless, several players, including Flacco, six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and Mason said they would be surprised if Cameron doesn’t return.
“I’ve said this and I’m going to continue to say it: Players are the ones that play,” Mason said. “You can’t blame Cam for three turnovers. You can’t blame Cam for what happened in the third quarter. You can try to point the finger but why do it? Obviously, he’s the leader of this offensive bunch because he’s the play-caller. It’s that trickle-down effect.
“He calls the plays that he thinks are going to make it work and the players have to make it work. Cam never turned the ball over. I would be surprised if he’s fired, but they’ll do a good job of evaluating the whole situation. If he is back, that would be great If he’s not, I think that would be a shocker.”
The Ravens finished the regular season ranked 22nd in total offense, averaging 322.9 yards per contest.
They were 14th in rushing, averaging 114.4 yards per contest.
And they were 20th in passing offense, passing for 208.4 yards per game, and were 16th in scoring offense with a 22.3 average.
The Ravens went 13-5, but the offense didn’t match their defensive colleagues’ standards.
“I’m just going to say our team wasn’t as good as it needed to be,” Harbaugh said. “I will also say that we are going to be a top-notch offense in the National Football League. That’s going to happen. I think that we’re closer than you might think, based on some of the stretches we’ve had. The bottom line, we’ve had bad stretches. We’ve had bad quarters, we’ve had bad halves, we haven’t always finished games as well.
“We can’t let that happen. We’ve got to get better. We can run the ball better, we can throw the ball better, we can protect better, we can protect the football better, especially in critical situations against good teams. We’re going to find a way to get that done. We’re going to find a way to be a top-rated offense, with the goal, and I think Cam says it very well: ‘To be the winningest offense in the National Football League.’”
The Ravens often had trouble getting the football in the hands of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin whether he was facing bracket coverage or not (see analysis).
The running game didn’t excel in short-yardage and red-zone situations, having trouble grinding out tough yards with diminutive running back Ray Rice.
Flacco improved his statistics with 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a 93.6 passer rating, but rarely dominated against upper echelon defenses.
He threw an interception against the Steelers as the offense set a franchise record for fewest yards with 126 for the game and only 28 in the second half.
“We need to learn how to win these close games,” Flacco said. “We can’t make these mistakes to beat ourselves. We lost to a good football team. We’ve got to figure out how to pull these games out.”
And Mason and Boldin combined for one reception for minus-two yards against the Steelers.
"We had our ups and downs, but we played well,” Mason said. “I think it’s well-documented what I said. I don’t think we really have to go back and revisit that. Hopefully, next year, you add a couple pieces here and there, the offense will be consistent every week."
Birk defended Cameron, but acknowledged that the offense didn’t meet expectations by failing to emerge as a potent unit.
“Cam obviously has built a great resume in this league and done a great job,” Birk said. “Now, offensively, do we feel we performed as well as we should have this year? I don’t think so. Obviously, we’re disappointed. It’s the middle of January and we’re done playing, so we’re disappointed.
“That falls on everybody, all the offensive coaches all the offensive players. I think it’s always important at the end of the year you look at yourself and see what you need to do to get better. If everybody does that, we’ll be a lot better. We’ll come back next year with the intent to improve on what we did this year.”