Friday, February 1, 2013
Ravens' big-play offense keeps it low-key
By Jamison Hensley
Quarterback Joe Flacco and coordinator Jim Caldwell have the Ravens' offense flying fast and furious.
NEW ORLEANS -- If you go to YouTube or Twitter, chances are you'll find someone "Kaepernicking," the phrase that describes the San Francisco 49ers quarterback's touchdown celebration where he flexes his arm and kisses the tattoos on his bicep.
Just don't expect to find anyone "Flaccoing" anytime soon at the Super Bowl. As Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs puts it, that's the art of answering questions for 30 straight minutes without changing his expression.
It's no secret that Joe Flacco lacks the flash of past Super Bowl quarterbacks. His father described him as "dull" this week. The same goes for Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who is as even-tempered as his quarterback. One player described Caldwell's personality as "pretty dry."
But this is what makes the Ravens' offense work. Baltimore's passing attack is clicking because Flacco and Caldwell are clicking. In the AFC divisional round, the Ravens beat the Broncos by taking deep shots downfield. In the AFC Championship Game, Baltimore upset the Patriots by opening up the offense with a no-huddle, shotgun attack in the second half. Who would have thought one of the most exciting offenses in these playoffs would be orchestrated by two laid-back men?
Ravens coach John Harbaugh did. With three weeks left in the regular season, Harbaugh fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator and replaced him with Caldwell. It didn't matter that Caldwell hadn't called plays in 12 years. It also didn't matter that Caldwell was hired less than a year ago. Unlike Cameron, Caldwell had an even-keeled personality that meshed with Flacco.
In 13 games this season with Cameron, the Ravens averaged 344.3 yards per game. In five games under Caldwell, Baltimore is recording 406.2 yards per game.
"We needed a little bit of a spark," Flacco said. "I think we were starting to level out maybe a little bit, at least that’s what John thought. We had a couple of losses. I think Jim has done a great job in transitioning and making it as clean as possible and as crisp as possible. I think we’ve gotten back a little bit to our hurry-up, and I think maybe that’s helped us."
What has made the Flacco-Caldwell tandem work in the postseason is an aggressive mindset, and it's not just throwing the ball 30 yards downfield every snap. Flacco often bristled at Cameron's conservative play calling at times. With Caldwell, the Ravens are always attacking.
In the playoff game in Denver, Flacco was 4-for-7 with three touchdowns on throws more than 20 yards downfield. The Ravens identified Champ Bailey as vulnerable to long throws, and they repeatedly went after him with passes to Torrey Smith. The three touchdowns on those 20 yard-plus throws were Flacco’s most in a game in his career and tied the most thrown by any quarterback in a game since the start of 2008.
The next week in New England, the Ravens picked on the Patriots in a different way. The Ravens took advantage of Aqib Talib, New England's best cornerback, getting injured by using three wide receivers on 79.5 percent of Flacco’s drop-backs, their third-highest percentage this season (including playoffs). All 16 of Flacco’s completions with that personnel came after Talib left, good for 176 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Of course, you wouldn't know the success by looking at Flacco.
“In the AFC championship, no matter how the game was going, his emotion never changed. He’d throw a touchdown and he go like just," said Suggs, slightly moving his fist forward in celebration. "I say, 'We're going to the Super Bowl,' and he's like, 'Yeah, bud. Yeah, dude.' I'm like, 'Dude, can get I rise out of you?' He's just too cool."
The only part of Flacco's game that has risen has been his numbers. Under Caldwell's steady direction, Flacco has thrown for eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the playoffs. Only Steve Young and Joe Montana have passed for more touchdowns without an interception in a single postseason.
Asked on the message he brought to the team, Caldwell said in his usual understated manner, "I didn’t really have anything contrived for the most part. I’ve been around long enough to know that I’m not going to go in and try to be something other than I am, myself. I present it the way I present, and I talk about the things I believe and we believe in. This is not Jim Caldwell’s offense. It’s the Ravens' offense."
To be more specific, this has been Flacco and Caldwell's offense this postseason. Their low-key demeanor has taken this team to new heights.