(Reuters) - John Harbaugh’s surprising mid-season change at quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens might have been less dramatic than the switch his brother Jim made with the San Francisco 49ers but it was no less successful.
John Harbaugh fired Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator in December and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell in a move that sparked a scoring boost and helped the Ravens reach the Super Bowl.
Jim Harbaugh made the bold decision to permanently stick with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he filled in for just one game for injured starter Alex Smith.
John Harbaugh’s decision had a positive effect on his established quarterback Joe Flacco, who has gone through the postseason with eight touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Caldwell, who joined the Ravens after being fired as head coach of the Colts after the 2011 season, took over after the Ravens’ losses to the Steelers and Redskins.
In his first game, Baltimore were pounded 34-17 by the Denver Broncos but things quickly improved once everyone began to understand his methods.
As the coordinator, Caldwell encouraged an exchange of ideas and Flacco responded with a brilliant run that has taken the team to the February 3 Super Bowl in New Orleans even though they did not always agree.
“You can have honest conversations and grow your relationship,” said Flacco, who seemed frustrated at times with the Cameron-led offense.
All-round halfback Ray Rice often saw his carries cut back during the course of a game, undercutting his impact.
“One thing that coach Caldwell has done for us is that he lets us go out there, and we have a game plan,” Rice said. “And regardless of the situation, we’ve been sticking with it.”
Caldwell has had Flacco roll out more frequently to keep defenders guessing, and began taking better advantage of the quarterback’s rifle-arm, targeting Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones for long passes.
Flacco saved the Ravens from an early exit in the playoffs with a glorious 70-yard touchdown bomb he threw to Jones with 31 seconds left in the divisional round against Denver. Baltimore eventually won in overtime.
During the playoffs, the Ravens averaged 425.3 yards and 30 points a game.
The day after Flacco erased a 13-7 halftime deficit with three second-half touchdown passes in a 28-13 triumph over New England in the AFC title game, Harbaugh said Caldwell had agreed to remain as offensive coordinator next season.
When Caldwell took over the coordinator job, it marked the first time in his NFL career he found himself responsible for calling plays, but the 58-year-old seemed right at home.
Caldwell served seven seasons as quarterbacks coach with the Colts, working with Peyton Manning, before taking over as head coach after Tony Dungy retired.
A former college head coach at Wake Forest, Caldwell took Indianapolis (14-2) to the Super Bowl in his first season at the helm and got them back to the playoffs (10-6) the next season.
He was fired by the Colts after a 2-14 campaign in which Manning missed the entire season due to a neck injury.
“He’s calling plays, so it has his stamp on it, his flavor on how he calls the game,” Baltimore’s six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said of Caldwell. “We’ve had success. He’s done a great job.”
Editing by Julian Linden