The AFC Championship Game this weekend between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens hinges on one person.
That’s right: just one.
Tom Brady? Nope, not the sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer.
Ray Rice? Sort of, but that’s not the answer.
No. No. No.
Actually, the most important person in deciding who will advance to represent the American Football Conference in Super Bowl XLVI is none other than the gentleman who holds the worst all-time record of any “non-interim” head coach in NFL history: Baltimore Offensive Coordinator Malcolm “call me Cam” Cameron.
Image credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images via B/R
Here’s the issue:
Baltimore is a balanced team that is working on all cylinders when, and only when, Ray Rice is working up a heavy lather. They control the clock. Joe Flacco becomes efficient and effective. Their defense, which has a couple of aging stars, gets plenty of time on the sidelines resting up.
The problem is that, in a nutshell, Cam Cameron panics almost immediately when things don’t go according to plan.
Let’s look at the numbers.
In the Ravens’ 12 wins during the regular season, Baltimore had great balance and emphasized an effective running game. They passed 386 times in these 12 games (32/game), while running 404 times (almost 34/game). They passed on 48.9% of their plays. On the flip side (you may want to sit down), they only ran 55 times (14/game) while throwing almost 40 times per game (158 total) in their four losses.
Even Andy Reid would blush at a 74% passing ratio.
Enter this week’s opponent, the Patriots.
We know two things about New England. First, Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game. His offense has been virtually unstoppable this season, averaging over 32 points per game. They only scored less than 30 points four times all season, never less than 20. So, you can insert your favorite Dan Patrick quote here and be reasonably comfortable that the Patriots will put some points on the board.
Next, while New England is abhorrent on defense with the 31st ranked defense, their specific weakness is against the pass, as they give up almost 300 yards per game through the air.
This is clearly a dangerous combination.
You have a Baltimore offensive coordinator who panics, is going to have to score some points and may even fall behind, and they are playing against a team that is easy pickings through the air. I can already see Cameron abandoning his gameplan after the Pats take the opening kickoff 80 yards in 7 minutes for an opening drive TD.
That combination of a deficit and the fool’s gold that is the Patriots’ secondary will be way too much for a guy with a quick gag reflex to avoid.
On behalf of Raven fans and Patriot haters throughout the land, let me scream at the top of my lungs: “Don’t do it, Cam!”
Stay with the plan. Baltimore can win this game. If they are who we think they are (thank you Dennis Green), they can run the ball 35-40 times, hold the ball for 35 minutes, and have their defense make just enough plays to, er, contain the Patriots.
John Harbaugh should be preaching patience to his underling all week long. He should probably wire him with some sort of contraption to fry him with a mini-lobotomy any time he passes twice in a row.
Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Harbaugh: just to be on the safe side, take the ball if you win the toss.
Follow Brian Dilsheimer on Twitter @Dils_Ignite