NFL.com writer “fixes” Ravens offense

Bucky Brooks, an analyst at NFL.com and NFL Network, posted an article today detailing how new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell can fix the Ravens offense moving forward. Brooks watched the All-22 and coach’s film to reach his recommendations.

However, most of these recommendations are pretty much exactly what Ravens fans have been screaming for for years. Things that, for whatever reason, the now departed Cam Cameron refused to do.

Let’s take a look at what Bucky has to say:

1) Build the game plan around Ray Rice.

HA. HA HA. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

/wipes tear from eye

Yeah….do that, please.

Rice is unquestionably one of the top runners in the NFL, but he seemed to be underutilized in Cameron’s system. Rice is averaging just 16.7 rushing attempts per contest through the Ravens’ first 13 games in 2012, which is down from his career average of 18.4 rushing attempts in 58 starts since taking over as the full-time starter in 2009.

After studying the Ravens’ game tape, I would expect Caldwell to call more stretch plays and lead draws to take advantage of Rice’s speed, quickness and cut-back ability.

Caldwell should certainly take advantage of Rice’s remarkable running skills in the ground attack, but the offensive coordinator also must capitalize on Rice’s talent as a receiver. Rice is an exceptional route runner out of the backfield; opponents have been unable to guard him with a single defender. This gives quarterback Joe Flacco an explosive weapon to target on underneath routes with minimal risk of a turnover or negative play.

Nobody in Baltimore will complain about more Rice, that’s for damn sure.

2) Make Torrey Smith the No. 1 option in the passing game.

Smith is clearly the Ravens’ most dynamic weapon in the passing game. He can overwhelm defenders on the perimeter with his blazing speed. The Ravens have capitalized on Smith’s physical tools by routinely targeting him on an assortment of vertical routes outside the numbers.

From running comebacks and curls on the outside to short crossing routes between the hashes, Smith has demonstrated the ability to get open against man or zone coverage, while also showcasing exceptional running skills with the ball in his hands. This should encourage Caldwell to feature Smith as the primary target in the route progression. One of the routes that I would expect to see in the coming weeks is the shallow cross.

A shallow what-now?

Oh, right a crossing route. As in, in the middle of the field. You know, the play that (as Brooks points out) Torrey turned into a 50+ yard gain in San Diego that we haven’t seen at all since.

By expanding Smith’s role from strictly being a vertical playmaker to that of a traditional No. 1 receiver, the Ravens will give one of the most explosive playmakers in the AFC more opportunities to put the ball in the paint from anywhere on the field.

3) Keep Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson on the field as much as possible.

Pitta, who was shockingly absent from the game plan against Pittsburgh, came back and had a strong game in Washington, leading the team with five catches.

Dickson, though, hasn’t played since hurting his knee against San Diego. If he gets healthy again, the former Oregon Duck can be a great weapon in the middle of the field (again…where?), as he showed again against Oakland this year.

The Ravens have a pair of young, athletic tight ends with outstanding talent in Pitta and Dickson. Each poses a tremendous challenge for opposing defenses, with plus size and skill. The Ravens should tap into both of their potential by routinely utilizing “12? (one running back, two tight ends and two receivers) and “22? (two running backs, two tight ends and one receiver) personnel packages. This will enable Baltimore to use a variety of formations to create mismatches in the run or pass game.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t recall seeing Pitta and Dickson on the field together much at all this year.

Either way, some formational diversity will be a very welcome change to those of us used to the Ravens’ extremely vanilla set-ups under Cam.

Caldwell certainly is familiar with maximizing the 12 personnel package from his time in Indy, with Dallas Clark and a host of other tight ends playing prominent roles.

When the Ravens opt to use their 22 personnel package, they are able to create the illusion of a power running game to set up opportunities off play action. Baltimore has enjoyed success throughout the season using the package to generate explosive plays; I can envision Caldwell expanding on the grouping to help Flacco take more shots down the field.

I’d be happy with some higher-percentage “shots down the field,” as opposed to just more of them.

4) Let Joe Flacco run the no-huddle offense.

In the Ravens’ first nine games, they ran 171 plays from the no (or “sugar”) huddle offense. Then only eight total in the previous four games.

Flacco recently vented his frustration to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun over this very issue.

“I think we have to get back to some of the no-huddle stuff,” Flacco said. “Some of that is a little frustrating. We’ve gotten away from doing that a little bit. I think there are points out there to get, and we haven’t taken advantage of that.”

Back to Bucky…

The Ravens entered the season intent on utilizing the no-huddle offense to increase tempo. The quickened pace is advantageous for the offense, because it limits substitutions and forces defensive coordinators to simplify their calls, in the hopes of avoiding potential communication issues. This allows quarterbacks to work against vanilla fronts and coverages, leading to more big-play chances in the passing game.

Caldwell knows all about the intricacies of the no-huddle after spending years with Peyton Manning as his quarterback. While he didn’t serve as the offensive play caller in Indianapolis, he was a trusted confidant as the Colts’ quarterback coach, and he obviously remained so after ascending to the head-coaching position. This insight will enable him to tailor the Ravens’ playbook to suit Flacco’s strengths without overloading his mind with too many checks and adjustments. By incorporating a frenetic pace and a scaled-down game plan, Caldwell can simplify things for Flacco and eliminate some of the confusing exotic pre-snap looks from opposing defenses. This will allow Flacco to play with more confidence.

A more aggressive Flacco will produce more big plays and help the Ravens’ offense regain the explosiveness that has been missing in recent weeks.

This is a big one. Not only for the remainder of this season, but for the career of Flacco in Baltimore. If the Cameron firing really did come down from above, then it’s imperative for the Ravens’ brass to see what they have with Flacco unchained from the quagmire of Cam’s schemes.

Flacco has always been a guy who thrives in an up-tempo, short passing game where he can get into a nice rhythm. Cameron either didn’t realize this, or ignored it.

I’m very excited to see what changes Caldwell makes to the Baltimore offense. While I don’t expect it to make much of a difference on Sunday (though I’ll hope like hell), I’m much more excited for the future of the Ravens than I would be with Cam still on board.

Brooks’ article is a good one, and includes some screencaps from the All-22 film. Click over to NFL.com and give it a read, if you haven’t already.

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