Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is scheduled to interview for the Detroit Lions' head coaching job on Friday. To get a better idea of what he's all about, I sent five questions to Jason Butt from Baltimore Beat Down, SB Nation's Ravens blog. You can check out his answers below.
1. Jim Caldwell's sudden promotion to offensive coordinator last season seemed to jumpstart the Ravens' run to the Super Bowl. What did Caldwell change about the offense that worked so well?
The Ravens stuck with the Cam Cameron offense after he was fired but Caldwell assumed play-calling duties. Here's the thing about Cameron: Love him or hate him (hating Cameron was a pastime in Baltimore), his playbook generally had some good stuff in it. The problem was he would get stubborn and rely too much on the same plays over and over again. He rarely utilized the middle of the field and stuck with safe calls along the sideline. It baffled the fans, and the players grew frustrated with him over time.
Caldwell opened up Cameron's playbook once he had a grip on it, or at least it seemed, and once Joe Flacco and the offense got comfortable in the 2012 postseason, everything began to click. But like any coordinator, Caldwell probably preferred his way the best. And so Caldwell began implementing his playbook in the offseason, and it was apparent that the team struggled to get on the same page in 2013. That, combined with what turned out to be a colossal disaster in hiring Juan Castillo to be the run-game coordinator (but that's for another post, another time).
2. This past season was a different story for the Ravens offense with the team ranking 25th in the NFL in scoring, 29th in total yards per game and 30th in rushing yards per game. How much blame does Caldwell deserve for Baltimore's offensive struggles?
It depends on who you talk to. Some say the offense's demise this year is Caldwell's fault, that the offense was too predictable. Some say it's Castillo's fault for changing the technique of the offensive linemen when what they were doing had worked for so long. Others will blame the players for not getting the job done.
In all honesty, it's probably a mix of all three. In football, placing the blame on one person or area usually doesn't cut it. It's a game filled with moving parts. And Caldwell was among those parts. If he's back as the offensive coordinator next year, maybe he learns from the mistakes made this year. Or perhaps, he moves on to another job and avoids the scrutiny he'd otherwise receive in Baltimore.
3. One of the most important things for the Lions going forward is having a coach who can develop Matthew Stafford. How would you evaluate Joe Flacco's progression since Caldwell joined the Ravens?
This has a two-pronged answer in a sense. Joe Flacco finished with a career-high 3,912 yards in 2013, but that number barely bested his 2012 total of 3,817. Falling short of 4,000 yards after being named Super Bowl MVP in an unbelievable postseason run that earned him a $120.6 million contract has to be seen as a failure. He also threw 22 interceptions (a career high) to 19 touchdowns (his worst since his rookie season). And before last year's playoff run, this was kind of how he was during the 2012 regular season -- up and down, except he was down more this year than up.
So his progression under Caldwell hasn't showed in terms of the yards or touchdowns thrown. But at the same time, Flacco and Caldwell have a great working relationship with each other. While Flacco and Cameron were strained at times, he and Caldwell get along great and seem to be perfect for each other. Caldwell's always calm and isn't a big rah-rah guy. If Caldwell ended up taking the Detroit job, maybe having that calm but constructive influence could help someone like Stafford.
But as far as how Flacco's production has grown in two years with Caldwell on board, well, it hasn't.
4. Obviously this may depend on personnel, but Reggie Bush and Joique Bell were two of the Lions' best pass catchers this past season. How involved have Baltimore's running backs been in the passing game under Caldwell?
If everything went according to plan from the preseason, the running backs would have been more involved in the passing game. As it was, the running game was horrible and the offensive line struggled to protect Flacco (he was sacked 48 times in 2013, second-worst in the NFL). That forced the Ravens to use Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in protections rather than in routes.
Rice, who has historically fared well in the Ravens' passing game, ended the 2013 season with 321 receiving yards. Pierce had just 104 yards through the air. Thinking back to when he was the Colts' head coach, I don't recall the running backs getting the ball that much in the passing game. But he had a pretty nice connection in Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne to work with, so that didn't exactly matter.
5. What would you say has been the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of the Ravens offense since Caldwell took control of it?
The biggest strength? Having Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta during the Super Bowl run. Without Boldin this year and Pitta being sidelined for most of it, the offense was out of sorts. It didn't have a strength. When you look back, it's amazing this team won eight games based on the offensive production it got. A lot of fans compared it to the 2000 offense, which ranks as one of the worst offenses to ever win a Super Bowl.
The biggest weakness on this offense was its inability to convert red-zone opportunities. There's a reason the local media voted Justin Tucker the team's MVP. It was a success when the offense got inside the 35 so that Tucker could get a chance. It was that bad this year.
Quite honestly, given the way this year played out, I'm surprised both the Lions and Redskins, and even Penn State, are taking a look at Caldwell as a head coach. Sure, there were a lot of elements that caused the offense to play so poorly that it posted the lowest rushing output in franchise history (1,328 yards). But then again, when an offense is that inefficient, how does that warrant the group's coordinator multiple looks in what would be a promotion?
Thing is, a lot of Baltimore fans wouldn't mind seeing him take one of these jobs if he's offered.