How many times have you found yourself screaming at your television set on Sundays, exasperated with the play of the Ravens offense?
“USE THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD, CAM!”
“OH, GREAT, HERE COMES THE OUT!”
Especially on the road, the Baltimore offense often resembles something you’d see at a high school game, not in professional football. We’re all familiar by now with the assessment of NFL Films’ Greg Cosell last year, who said that “The Ravens offense when you pop in the tape and see play after play after play, you feel like you are watching an offense out of the 1960’s,” among other scathing criticisms.
A few things happened this week, though, to validate that criticism and make us Ravens fans want to punch ourselves in the face even more than we already do watching our offense sputter and spurt.
The Rave TV show 1 Winning Drive is appointment viewing for me every week (airs Mondays at 5 PM on Comcast SportsNet). The show offers sideline sights and sounds for every single Ravens game, giving us a unique look at the goings-on behind the scenes.
This week, the Rave TV cameras captured a very interesting exchange between Anquan Boldin and Cam Cameron.
During the conversation, Boldin said, “Cam, when we’re in slot, and we go [with three wide receivers], everything in the middle, they’re sitting on,” referring to Chargers defenders anticipating the routes of the Ravens receivers.
“They’re waiting on the outs because the only thing we’re running is the outs, option and dodge,” Boldin then said, practically validating our assumption that Cameron’s “route tree” looks more like a Steelers fan’s family true – a trunk with no branches.
Cam looked utterly shocked at this information.
Upon hearing these quotes, any Ravens fan should have a reaction similar to this one by Mugatu in the great film Zoolander:
How is it possible that we see this, the players see this, and yet our offensive coordinator doesn’t see it?
It was immediately apparent on Sunday that the Chargers were employing the same strategy that Pittsburgh used the week before to take Torrey Smith out of the game – inverting the coverage, bringing the safety underneath to take away the short outs, while having the corner bail and be ready to run with Smith should he go deep.
As was evident in both Pittsburgh and San Diego, the offense usually stalls when Smith is taken out of the equation. During the first half on Sunday, Smith was targeted just three times, hauling in one catch for twelve yards.
San Diego’s “inverted coverage” worked to perfection.
However, in the third quarter, Flacco finally found Torrey running short across the middle of the field. Smith was able to use his speed effectively, and turn a short throw into a 54-yard gain on 3rd-and-7.
That play was a perfect example of a player bailing the Ravens out of a bad situation resulting from poor play calling. As Flacco took the snap in the shotgun, Smith ran a route three yards past the line of scrimmage. Flacco saw that the rest of his receivers were covered and Smith was his only “open” option, though he practically had Chargers cornerback Marcus Gilchrist hanging off his back.
The aforementioned conversation between Boldin and Cameron occurred shortly thereafter.
Ravens fans often complain about the offense’s all-or-nothing approach. As Glenn Younes said on our RSR Spreecast this week, the team doesn’t “covet first downs enough,” choosing to run right up the middle or throw the bomb, with not nearly enough in between.
Comments from Smith to CSNBaltimore’s J.Michael the other day only add more fuel to the fire.
“I think it’s a higher percentage rate on underneath routes,” Smith said. “That’s just how it works.”
“We take a lot of shots deep to open things up. It’s a lot harder to complete, it’s a lot harder for Joe [Flacco] in terms of throwing the ball and a lot harder for me to catch it.”
Enough e-ink has been spilled over the past four-plus seasons lambasting Cameron, and I’ve certainly done my share.
The topic is a bit exhausted and “well-done” at this point, but I just felt it necessary to point out that we fans aren’t the only ones that get frustrated with the play calls – it was obvious from this interaction that the players do as well.