NEW ORLEANS - One of the most popular storylines of the Ravens-49ers Super Bowl is the parallel paths brothers John and Jim Harbaugh took in making major changes that have, so far, worked out.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh changed quarterbacks, going with unproven Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith as his No. 1, despite the fact that Smith owned one of the top five passer ratings in the league.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh chose to dismiss Cam Cameron, the only offensive coordinator he had employed during his five years with the Ravens, and go with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, even though just three games remained in the regular season.
At the time of the change, the Ravens ranked 18th in the NFL in total offense and had been pretty inconsistent, averaging 309 yards and 23.3 points over the previous nine games.
The unit has been much more potent under Caldwell, averaging 406.2 yards (155.3 rushing and 250.8 passing) and 26.2 points over the last six games, including three playoff wins.
Harbaugh explained the thinking behind the decision this week.
“You’re always trying to build,” he said. “It goes back to that word. You’re trying to become as good as you can be. We had built something over the course of a long period of time and we were where we were, and I think it became kind of obvious and apparent that we needed to shake things up a little bit and head down a little bit of a different road to get where we need to go.
“It’s not reflective of a job that anyone was or was not doing. Everyone was doing their best. Everybody was doing a great job. We just needed to change the chemistry and the dynamic and we did that and it worked out for us.”
General manager Ozzie Newsome has noted that quarterback Joe Flacco and Caldwell seem to have developed good chemistry during their first season together - initially with Caldwell as quarterbacks coach and now as offensive coordinator.
Caldwell, however, refuses to take credit for the offensive uptick under his watch.
“None whatsoever. These are guys that are playing and playing well. They’ve done a great job,” he said. “I’ve got great help with this staff, as well. I may be the newest guy in the bunch. I’m the least familiar with the things that we do. I got a lot of help from our staff, as well as seven guys that helped on daily basis that do a tremendous job.”
But does Caldwell feel like anything shifted in terms of philosophy or strategy since he took over?
“It wasn’t like we made many significant changes in terms of what we’re doing from a schematic standpoint, because we were too far down he road for that,” he said. “What we did was, do the things that we knew how to do well and try to crystallize it.
“We have players that are very good players and have been in the system for four or five years that are maturing and getting better as time goes on. It just so happened that towards the end of the season things were really starting to come together. We’d shown flashes all through the year, but we just had some ups and downs a little bit here and there. Obviously, we’ve played a little more consistently since we’ve been in the playoffs and that’s worked well for us.”
The plan of attack has seemed more balanced under Caldwell with the team running a bit more, and he said the reason for that is simple.
“The great thing about our unit is that we have a lot of playmakers. When you have that many playmakers you want to make certain that you find a way that allows them to express their personality and their talent level,” he said. “We have to change it up quite a bit. We run the ball a good measure, and the reason being is because we have two very fine tailbacks, an outstanding Pro Bowl fullback and an offensive line that can block you as well and come of the ball and be physical, receivers that don’t mind blocking, so we have to make sure that we can give them the ball and the opportunity to do so.
“We also have some fleet-footed receivers, guys that can get down the field, guys that can stretch your defense, and guys that are big playmakers like Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, and the list goes on. With that in mind, that makes us look at a situation and make certain that we do have some balance on our offense because we do have a number of guys that can do something with the ball once they get it in their hands.”
Even though Caldwell doesn’t think he deserves credit for the way things have gone during the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl, some of the players like what he brings.
Similar to Newsome, Pitta is impressed with the way Flacco is playing under Caldwell.
“Jim’s done a great job of making sure that Joe’s fundamentals are solid,” Pitta said. “I think as an offensive coordinator, he’s given Joe an opportunity to get a rhythm in games and get comfortable. You’ve seen that over this last stretch that we’ve had.”
Flacco has also enjoyed working with Caldwell.
“Jim has been great,” Flacco said. “He and I have pretty similar personalities and it’s just good going to that room and kind of bounce ideas off of each other and communicate the way we have. I think that’s what leads to playing well on Sundays, is having that communication between you and him and having that communication trickle down through the offense.”
Tailback Ray Rice praised Caldwell for his approach of putting the Ravens’ offensive players in the best positions to succeed.
“Jim Caldwell couldn’t come in there and reinvent the offense. We had the same plays, same formation, same number count,” Rice said. “One thing he emphasized with us is to do what we do and do it really well. He’s just a guy that knows we’re not going to be perfect, but if we chase perfection, we’re headed in the right direction.”