Here are my thoughts on the performance by the most hated man on the Ravens squad, Cam Cameron, during the 23-16 win over the Browns. I give a drive-by-drive analysis of what he called, then some general comments.
First drive: For some reason, Cam starts with a play action. I know this sometimes works (especially in older footage before the league became so passing oriented), but I've never understood it. In my opinion, you need to establish the run as a real threat before you can bait the other team into covering it using play action. The deep bomb to Torrey goes incomplete. Next play, Cam makes the right choice and runs it, letting Rice pick up 10 yards. Short passes on both sides don't do much, and a 3rd and 2 run by Rice gets stuffed. Probably still the right call, and a decent set of play calling corrects for the stupid first play. Punt.
Second drive: End around. I hate Cam so much right now. A couple Rice runs get stuffed, and with penalties, Ravens face 3rd and 22. Despite the pressure that's been coming, Cam opts for a slow-developing play, and Joe has to dump it off to Rice for just 8 yards. Punt, but the punishing hit on Cribbs leads to a fumble and the...
Third drive: This is classic Cam. Running hasn't worked well on two drives, so he gives Rice one more shot, and Rice picks up only 2. He's now got 4 carries for 10 yards. Rather than give Rice some time to develop his momentum, Cam decides that it's short pass left time! Three in a row bring us to the 10, but when Flacco tries to switch it up with a short pass right, he sends out an INT.
Fourth drive: Pierce is in to give Rice a breather (even though Rice hasn't been running, he's been catching a lot). His first two runs total 18 yards. That means Cleveland is on its heels and has to pull in its safeties to cover the run. Joe gets the individual matchups he wants downfield and completes long ones to Doss and Torrey. At that point, we're done running for a bit, and keep slinging it around until Torrey finds the endzone. TD.
Fifth drive: I really liked this drive, which mixed dump-offs and slants with runs in a nice blend. My only complaint is the 3rd and 7 attempt from the Cleveland 27, when Joe targeted Pitta in tough coverage in the endzone instead of going for a higher probability slant or something similar. FG.
Sixth drive: After a run and an incomplete deep pass, Joe gets sacked. The Browns had been turning up the pressure for a while, and I think that the failure to adjust by having some quick slants or outs on 3rd and 6 was a bit of a mistake. Punt.
Seventh drive: Rushing? What's rushing? Six consecutive pass plays, with two incompletions, and we only take 1:30 off the clock. Fortunately, the Browns couldn't capitalize, but I see no reason why they shouldn't have run on 2nd and 4 to eat some clock. Punt.
Eighth drive: Another slow-developing play in the face of Cleveland's pressure causes a 9 yard sack that basically eliminates any shot at a field goal. A bizarre checkdown to Ray Rice (why do we throw checkdowns to the middle of the field under 2 minutes?) goes nowhere and a couple junk time deep bombs fail. End of half.
First drive: Pass, pass, run; repeat. I don't mind patterns when they work, though. Rice got stuffed twice at the goal line but Joe brings it in. TD.
Second drive: Another slow-developing play (this time a flea flicker) gets completely blown up. Four pass attempts in a row (including on 3rd and 3), and then penalties put us so far back that we had to pass. The penalties were the real killer this drive; without the calls against Pitta and KO, the FG attempt is only 42 yards instead of 47. FG miss.
Third drive: Starts with a Rice run for 5 yards, then just passing, including another 3rd and 3 pass, which goes incomplete. Punt.
Fourth drive: This drive has a nice mix of runs and passes. Unfortunately, the receivers can't get open on 2nd and 9, forcing Joe to scramble for 0/take a sack without a loss, and the 3rd and 9 pass fails. The team also appears to be huddling on most plays now. Punt.
Fifth drive: We're completely out of the no-huddle now. Some runs by Rice don't go far (except a 21 yarder, which is called back by holding), but they cause Cleveland to use all of its timeouts. After the third timeout, we've got a 3rd and 3. What do we do? You guessed it: throw incomplete. The drive should have ended here with 1:55 left for Cleveland to score, but a very fortunate illegal contact keeps it alive. More runs by Rice get stuffed for 2 yards or less, and we end up punting and hoping our defense can handle things.
What it means: Cam still ignores our run game when it starts slowly. In four 3rd and 3 attempts, he passed all four times. I understand that Rice wasn't having a fantastic night on the ground -- he only put up 2.7 yards per carry for less than 50 total (although his average goes up to about 3.7 if you include the long one that got called back by Oher's hold). But Pierce was on fire, averaging 8.0 yards per carry. When you've got a situation like that, you need to make the adjustment and start featuring Pierce. Rice is a team player who knows how this game works, and frankly, if we can sit him for an entire game while Pierce runs all over a defense, then it's that much more wear and tear we avoid putting on Rice. Abandoning the run game can be particularly bad for clock management, and I think Cam made some terrible decisions in the last real drive in the first half when he left Cleveland too much time to score.
Cam also has trouble adjusting protection schemes. The Browns were pressuring Flacco all night, picking up 4 sacks total. In that situation, Cam called too many plays that take a long time to develop, resulting in sacks or checkdowns for no gain. When your QB is under pressure, that's the perfect time to use the no-huddle and pound a bunch of slants into the defense to force them back into coverage.
Finally, because of those two things, we weren't able to put points on the board. We had a very high EIGHT drives in the first half alone; they got us just nine points. Other than Cleveland's long drive for a TD, our defense played very well in the first half, but Cam couldn't get them the space they needed to start playing aggressively and force Weeden to make mistakes. As a result, they started to tire out in the second half and the Browns stayed in it.
That said, there were a couple drives that came together nicely, in which Cam used the run game to establish the passing game. Overall, though, this game looked like we were playing as a pass-first team, and when we do that, we generally don't have good results. We were lucky it came against the Browns.
Week 1: A
Week 2: F
Week 3: B-
Week 4: D+