By Jeremy Hritz
Bob Dylan said “the times they are a changin’.” If he is following AFC North football, he may be considering a lyrical revision.
It looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers are not the only AFC North team that will begin the 2012 NFL season with a new coordinator. On Wednesday, Chuck Pagano, defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, accepted the head coaching position of the Indianapolis Colts, taking over for the recently fired Jim Caldwell. Pagano, in his first year as the defensive coordinator for the Ravens, lead the defense to a third overall ranking in yards allowed, and a first overall ranking in the AFC in total sacks. While the Ravens have had success in previous years replacing such notable defensive coordinators as Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, and Greg Mattison, it will be intriguing to see which candidate will take over the defense. It will also be interesting to see if that candidate will be able to sustain the success established by his predecessors, or if the challenges of age in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will stifle his achievements in 2012. The early candidates to replace Pagano are in-house, they are: linebackers coach Dean Pees, who was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots from 2006 to 2009, and defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.
The change doesn’t stop there. While criticized as much as Bruce Arians, and probably even more, Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has his contract is set to expire in February, which if not renewed will present the Baltimore organization with two challenges of change next season. The criticism against Cameron was for his limited use of should-be workhorse running back Ray Rice and his fascination with the passing game which saw Joe Flacco complete only 57% of his passes this season. However, like Arians, Cameron’s offense still led the Ravens to a 12 and 4 season. There is a chance that he will return.
Potentially, there could be at least three new coordinators in the AFC North next season for the division bullies in the Steelers and Ravens. The primary question as a result of these changes will be how well will these organizations handle these changes? As Steelers’ fans, we have to be rooting for Ozzie Newsome to let Cameron walk and bring somebody new in to run the offense to disrupt the continuity of the Ravens even more. While in all likelihood Baltimore will be able to successfully fill the void left by Pagano as evidenced by their track record of hiring defensive coordinators, a new offensive coordinator, with a new terminology and a new scheme, plus the challenges of an average offensive line and a thin-skinned quarterback, could prove to be too much for the Ravens to overcome. These changes, in addition to a first-place schedule next year that includes games against the Patriots, Texans, and what should be an improved NFC East, should make winning the AFC North a second year in row for the Ravens just a rolling-stone more difficult than in 2011.
Luckily, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau chose to stick around for at least another year, or the Steelers would be facing a similar situation to the one emerging in Baltimore. And with quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner seeming more and more like the next man up, especially since Sean Kugler expressed that he has no interest in the position, at least the change the Steelers will experience will be one tempered by a Fichtner’s familiarity with the players and the organization. If Cameron gets B.A’ed by the Ravens, the advantage goes to Pittsburgh. Happy trails Pagano, and hopefully, Cam.