USA TODAY Sports
With Jim Caldwell at the helm, the Ravens' offense has been almost unstoppable.
It seems like a switch flicked on the day the Baltimore Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Because, all of a sudden, the offense was good again. Arguably, it has become the Ravens' best offense in the Joe Flacco era. Ask Bill Belichick or John Fox -- the Ravens' offense has been basically unstoppable since Dec. 10, the day Cameron was let go.
Even when the offense looks questionable, like it did in the first half against the Patriots, the Ravens have stuck with their game plan and their strengths to pull out wins.
So why has the Ravens' offense flourished under Caldwell? The answer isn't so black and white.
The running game
A lot of people want to point at the deep ball for the Ravens' success -- and we'll get to that -- but it doesn't paint the whole picture.
It's an old football adage: If you run the ball well, it will allow you to throw the ball well. That has absolutely worked in the Ravens' favor under Caldwell's thumb.
In six games with Caldwell as the offensive coordinator, the Ravens rushed for at least 155 yards in four of those games.
The Ravens couldn't hit 155 in the regular season against the Denver Broncos because they had to claw back from a huge deficit, but they proved they could do it in the postseason with a 155-yard performance. Baltimore didn't hit 155 against the New England Patriots on Sunday either because of the Pats' stout run defense (121 was the third-most rushing yards they allowed this season).
The Ravens hit the 155 mark just once with Cameron as the offensive coordinator. Ironically, that happened in his last game as the O.C. against the Washington Redskins (186 rushing yards) on Dec. 9.
Ray Rice is the usual suspect when it comes to the Ravens' success on the ground, but it was actually rookie Bernard Pierce that benefited from Caldwell's promotion. Pierce rushed for more than 100 yards twice (in six games) with Caldwell as the O.C., something he didn't do even once with Cameron calling the plays.
In fact, Pierce averaged just 25 yards per game under Cameron. With Caldwell in charge, Pierce pushed his average up to 64.5 yards per game. He has more yards in six games under Caldwell (401) than he did in 12 games under Cameron (300).
A change in philosophy
Joe Flacco has always been known as the quarterback with the biggest gun. As much as it can be a blessing, it can also be a curse: Throwing the deep ball doesn't necessarily translate to winning football games.
Until Caldwell came to town.
Caldwell, who has been a quarterbacks coach with Penn State, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Colts and Ravens in his career, has been known to coach quarterbacks to their strengths. Flacco's strength, without a doubt, is literally his strength.
So that's what Caldwell told Flacco to do: Throw the deep ball.
A "deep ball" is statistically considered to be a pass of 20 or more yards. With that knowledge, Flacco has essentially made his next, big money contract on his ability to throw the deep ball -- especially with Caldwell behind him.
Of the 12 touchdown passes Flacco has thrown in the six games with Caldwell as the O.C., seven have gone for more than 20 yards. Three of those came against the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round, and another against the Colts during Wild Card weekend. He had zero "deep ball" touchdowns against the Patriots, but in his two full regular season games with Caldwell three of his four TDs were deep balls.
This season as a whole -- including the playoffs -- Flacco has thrown 15 touchdowns of 20 or more yards and 15 touchdowns of less than 20 yards.
To put that into perspective, Tom Brady holds the NFL record with 50 touchdown passes in the regular season. He did that in 2007, and also tossed six touchdowns in the postseason. So with 56 touchdown passes total that year (and with a weapon like Randy Moss streaking down the field), Brady threw just 16 touchdowns that were more than 20 yards -- just one more than Flacco in 2012, despite having 26 more TD passes.
That's taking advantage of a strength.
The luck factor
Throwing a deep pass has high risk and high reward. On one end, a lot of deep passes go for touchdowns. On the other end, a lot also go for interceptions. When the ball hangs in the air for so long, it allows a cornerback or safety to get in position to try to outplay the receiver.
When you boil down the success of a deep pass, luck is a big part of it. And it seems Flacco has been Mr. Lucky lately.
Flacco has thrown just one interception in six games under Caldwell, that's a 12-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Flacco hasn't thrown an interception in more than a month, when Broncos cornerback Chris Harris picked him off and took it back 98 yards for a touchdown on Dec. 16.
He thrown seven touchdown passes of 20 or more yards in six games, but only one interception? It's almost impossible, but Flacco has proven that it's not.
All things considered, it seems that everything has clicked under Caldwell. It's like he has the Midas Touch.
Caldwell, Flacco and the Ravens have picked apart some great defenses en route to a Super Bowl appearance. They basically made Von Miller a non-factor in the Divisional Round, and Vince Wilfork's name wasn't called too often Sunday against the Patriots.
Since taking over, the running game has improved greatly, the passing game has completed big play after big play, and the Ravens, most importantly, are winning.
It has looked easy for Caldwell, but now comes the biggest challenge: Will Flacco and the Ravens continue their flawless play against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, or will their luck finally run out?