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Spitballin’

Spitballin’

Cam on the Street

I like to play the lottery. When the Powerball hit half-a-billion, I bought a ticket; and once in a while, when I’m feeling lucky, I pick up a scratch-and-win. It keeps that dream alive. You know, the one where I can buy a Cadillac and a yacht and pay Cameron Diaz to be the top of my Labor-Day-picnic human pyramid. Sometimes I hit the scratch-offs and I can take my wife out to Burger King and spring for the supersize. But I still have a 401K that I put about a quarter of my salary (roughly $11 a year) into, you know, so I can retire someday. I don’t invest in the lottery. In football, the “go route”—where you send your speediest wide receiver streaking down the field and your QB hucks the ball as far as he can in the hopes that your receiver can outrun the whole defense—is the lottery. Now-former Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron invested heavily in the lottery, and it cost him.

When the go route works, it’s a thing of beauty. Forty or 50 yards at a clip, if you’re at home, the crowd goes nuts; on the road, it sucks them dry. And after a big bomb, the defense seems to shrink. But it’s risky. If you hit it one time in five, you’re doing pretty good, so you do it sparingly, like playing the lottery. It keeps the dream alive, and, in NFL speak, it keeps the defense honest. If you’ve got a blazing-fast wide receiver like Torrey Smith on your squad and a cannon-armed QB like Joe Flacco, you show your hand every once in a while, you put it out there, and the defense has to plan for it, keep a safety back and out of the box, which allows you to throw underneath of him or run with one less man to beat. You plan to do it every couple of weeks, once a game, tops. Maybe when it’s second down and short, you throw it in there, like picking up that scratch-and-win. If you get it, gangbusters. If not, well, you only need 2 yards and you’ve got a human wrecking ball in the form of fullback Vonta Leach and a dude named Ray Rice to follow him. It’s low-risk, big reward.

But under Cam Cameron, the Ravens were running the go route three or four times a game. When you miss on that play, you’re not just throwing away the play, you’re throwing away a whole series. Second and 10, you pass again. Miss that and you’ve got to throw a third time. More often than not, you miss that bomb and it’s three and out and Ray Rice never even sniffed the ball.

Last Sunday, the Ravens lost the Battle of the Beltways in a heartbreaker to the Washington Redskins. It was a game that looked like it was gonna be a dogfight. On the opening drive, Washington marched down the field and scored. The Ravens got the ball back and put together a gorgeous five-play touchdown drive that started with four runs, three to Ray Rice, who netted an astounding 63 yards, and then capped it with a perfect 19-yard Joe Flacco-to-Anquan Boldin touchdown pass. It was everything a Ravens drive should be. Ray Rice, Ray Rice, Ray Rice, and just when you’re sure it’s going to be Ray Rice, Joe Flacco.

After another startlingly easy Redskins touchdown drive, the Ravens took the field and a Jah Reid false-start penalty put the Ravens in an immediate hole. Facing first and 15, picking up yards early in the series is even more important. You’ve got to get momentum and you’ve got to move the chains, but the way Rice was torturing the vaunted Redskins run defense—no problem, right?

Well, it might have been right. We’ll never know, because Cameron sent Smith streaking down the field. A go pattern. Cameron just cashed his paycheck and put it all on Powerball. Flacco and Smith couldn’t connect, the Ravens went three and out, and at that moment, Cameron crossed the Rubicon of unemployment.

That play alone didn’t cost the Ravens the game, but it wasted a drive early on in a game that was looking to be a shootout, and it put a reeling defense back on the field with barely a moment to catch its breath. Sure, the Ravens had other problems. They often looked like they were fielding matadors instead of an NFL defense: RG3, olé! The final Skins drive of the second half saw a one-legged Griffin and backup Kirk Cousins—who had thrown a total of eight passes in the NFL before the game—combine to plow down the field for not only a touchdown, but also the game-tying two-point conversion, which will get its own wing in the Ravens’ Hall of Shame. And in OT, the special teams unit, which has been easily the best and most consistent Ravens squad all season, gave up a deal-sealing, 63-yard punt return to Richard Crawford, setting up Washington for a field goal. But to the gambling, Cameron added a dearth of Rice, terrible clock-management at the end of the first half, and a walk off the field without even trying to score at the end of the second—putting a cherry on a Sunday of bad decisions.

And it wasn’t just this game. Cameron has long shown a lack of feel, often pushing hard when he’d be better served taking what the defense is giving. Ray Rice’s lack of carries and near disappearance from the passing game has been a crime. Throw in the media sniping Cam aimed at Flacco after the Texans’ loss, which cemented a hate-hate relationship between him and the quarterback he built his offense around, and it was his time to go.

It doesn’t hurt that the Ravens had Jim Caldwell, the offensive genius who orchestrated many of Peyton Manning’s best years, on the sidelines, ready to take over as offensive coordinator. Caldwell knows how to run the clock and how to balance a great QB and a great running game. His presence made the decision easy. Cam is gone and now Flacco and the offense will have no excuses. Merry Christmas, local sports talk radio. Cam, you may want to put your last paycheck in the bank this time.

spitballin@gmail.com

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