Caldwell's offense fails first test

Caldwell's offense fails first test
December 16, 2012, 5:15 pm
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Flacco explains game changing interception

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last Monday that the unorthodox decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after 13 games and replace him with Jim Caldwell was “just an opportunity to try to get this thing going and become the best offense and the best team we can be.”

Any optimism over the coordinator change, though, evaporated quickly as the Ravens’ offense failed miserably in a 34-17 loss to Denver on Sunday.

Forget the final numbers, which were padded somewhat by an impressive 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run by tight end Dennis Pitta with four minutes left. The Ravens spent much of the first three quarters – while the game was still in doubt -- spinning their wheels offensively in a jarring display of ineptitude for a team that still has designs on the AFC North title.

The Ravens (9-5) have lost three straight but still hold a one-game lead in the AFC North with two games to play.

The Ravens defense, missing four starters, figured to be tested by Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense. The onus was on the Ravens offense and quarterback Joe Flacco to match Manning, or at least produce enough to give the defense a chance.

That never happened.

Consider:

** --  The Ravens went the first 21 minutes without a first down. “We didn’t do the things we need to do to convert,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t run the ball well enough to get in third-and-shorts, and we didn’t convert.”

** -- They failed to convert on their first nine third-down chances, and finished the game 1-for-12.

** -- Flacco not only threw a game-changing interception that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown, but he also badly misfired several times. It appeared as if he and receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin were not on the same page of Caldwell’s playbook. Smith finished with one catch for 14 yards and left with a concussion. Boldin went without a catch for the first time in seven seasons. (He had one catch called back by penalty.)

** -- The Ravens failed to establish the run.  Ray Rice had seven carries for 23 yards at halftime and finished with 12 carries for 38 yards.

** -- Midway through the second quarter, punter Sam Koch had as many touches as Rice.

** -- The Ravens went three-and-out the first five times they had the ball and seven times overall, often walking off the field to a shower of boos.

The Ravens stressed all week that they weren’t reinventing the wheel, that the offense under Caldwell would be similar to that under Cameron. Cameron’s most ardent critics would probably agree.

Flacco was one of many Ravens who insisted the change in coordinators had nothing to do with the offensive struggles.

“It was a matter of us going out there and not doing some of the simple things right early on,” he said.

Pitta, who had a career day with seven catches for 125 yards and both Ravens touchdowns, said: “I thought Jim called a great game. We just, as players, didn’t execute it as cleanly as we would have liked, and there’s a lot of plays out there we would like to have back.”

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