OWINGS MILLS – Cam Cameron has been derided, ridiculed and all but publicly flogged as the supposed culprit behind the failures of the Baltimore Ravens’ lackluster, unproductive offense.
Instead of bowing to the pressure and firing the unpopular offensive coordinator, the Ravens are standing behind Cameron.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti huddled with coach John Harbaugh for five hours over three consecutive days at team headquarters with Harbaugh ultimately convincing him that dismissing Cameron wasn’t the correct course of action.
“I know that there’s been a lot of heat on Cam, and John’s feeling is that we like Cam under fire as our offensive coordinator next year,” Bisciotti said Thursday during a 45-minute press conference. “The fans’ frustration can’t lead us to offer somebody up for sacrifice for the things that went wrong because I have a litany of examples of our defense letting us down, too, that caused a lot of these things.
“Every position group had a failure. Every coach had a failure, and it all added up to 13 wins and five losses. So, the fans can be legitimately frustrated and the frustration level is higher the better we get.”
Behind the scenes, team employees have repeatedly criticized Cameron for running too predictable an offense and for being rigid and unwilling to accept input in constructing game plans.
Privately, players have said that Cameron won’t listen to their suggestions about play-calling and have said he doesn’t have a good feel for the game.
Nonetheless, the Ravens are going forward with Cameron.
“I’m onboard with John and his decision," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "And I’m also onboard with the process that John is going to undertake to make us better. Based on past experiences, the track that he’s taking that will lead us to more success.”
Despite the acquisition of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin and former Pro Bowl wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the presence of a former Pro Bowl player at every skill position except for quarterback, the Ravens slumped to 22nd in the league in total offense after ranking 13th the previous year.
The Raven set a franchise postseason record low with 126 yards during a 31-24 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, committing three turnovers and allowing quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked five times.
In 2009, the Ravens averaged 351.2 yards and 24.4 points per contest. This season, they fell to 322.9 yards and 22.3 points per game.
Part of Harbaugh’s plan is for him to get significantly more involved in the offense after concentrating on defense and special teams during his first three seasons as head coach and leading the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances.
“We’ll rebuild the offense from the ground up, but I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m going to do it,” said Harbaugh. “Cam drives that. The offensive coaches drive that. For probably the first time this year, I’ll have a chance to be involved on the offensive side from the get go, and we’re excited about that.”
The Ravens are confident that they have the right quarterback in Flacco, a towering former University of Delaware star who passed for a career-high 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions for a 93.6 passer rating.
“Over the past three years, I have been able to see a guy who can make all the throws, a guy that has poise, a guy that has command of this offense, but also a guy who can be inconsistent and not get it done at times," Newsome said. "It’s upon all of us to take him to the next level. What that next level is? I don’t know. But he has to be a better quarterback in 2011 than he was in 2010."
Bisciotti remains upbeat that Flacco can elevate his game to another level, one where he can legitimately join the conversation of the elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning.
“We think so, we hope so,” Bisciotti said. “We’re going to work to get him there. It might take killing off Peyton or something like that to accelerate that process. We’re not cutting bait with Joe. We have high hopes for him. ..
“Clearly, he improved and I’m still very happy to have Joe Flacco as our quarterback. After what Baltimore has been through since 1996, I think we’re in pretty good shape. I think he’s where we want him to be.”
Still, Boldin, Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth weren’t being nearly as prolific as anticipated.
Boldin caught only 64 passes for 837 yards and seven touchdowns after being acquired in a March trade.
Houshmandzadeh caught 30 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns after signing right before the season opener against the New York Jets, who made it to the AFC title game.
And Stallworth was signed in February, only mustering two receptions.
“If we’d have all the pieces in place at the beginning of March, the success of all of those guys would be increased," Newsome said. "If you can build continuity at the beginning of the offseason and build it all the way through, I think the production is there. That’s the way I look at it. That’s why I can take some of the blame.”
Bisciotti is feeling good about his decision to entrust his football team to Harbaugh, a formerly obscure specials team coach.
Harbaugh has gone 32-16 in the regular season, joining Bill Cowher, Dennis Green and Barry Switzer as the only coaches in NFL history to make it to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.
Ravens team president Dick Cass is crafting a contract extension proposal for Harbaugh, who was paid roughly $2.5 million last year.
His new contract is expected to be in the $4 million range with the deal patterned after Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s extension.
“He’s squeezing my leg right now; you guys can’t see it,” Bisciotti said. “John is going to get his contract extension. I’m sure it will take another week or two because he’s a tough guy to bargain with.”
Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are the only team to win at least one playoff game over the past three seasons.
Each time, though, they fell short of the Super Bowl.
“I’m proud of the success, I’m frustrated with the loss,” Bisciotti said. “Last year, I said our goal was to be one of the elite teams. Realistically, our goal is to try and be in the top 12 that gets you into the playoffs. We got to the final eight three years in a row.
“That is the cream of the NFL. That gets you to the final eight, and only one of those eight teams is going to go on a three-game winning streak at that point. That’s the one that’s going to be crowned Super Bowl champ.”
To accomplish that goal, though, the Ravens have to vanquish the Steelers.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has won seven consecutive games against Baltimore, frustrating them again with his penchant for making the big play as the Steelers booted the Ravens out of the postseason for the second time in the past three years.
“We’re close,” Bisciotti said. “They are what you all said they are, the ‘gold standard.’ We’re trying to be there, and we’re close. They don’t take us lightly. So, we’ve got their attention. They make the extra play. That’s what championship teams do. We’re not there yet. They are.
“They have those two Super Bowl trophies in the last five years, so they have the confidence. Does confidence beget success? Yeah, it does in a lot of situations. They’re there, we’re not. We’ve got to get there.”