Super Bowl coordinators net similar results despite different styles
NEW ORLEANS — One is an innovator who makes defenses wonder what he can do next. The other is a calming voice of reason who believes nothing is wrong with the conventional.
Offensive coordinators Greg Roman of the 49ers and Jim Caldwell of the Ravens don't think alike, coach alike or scheme alike. Caldwell wasn't even in his job two months ago. But they are comparable in results, and their success partly explains why their teams will meet Sunday in the Super Bowl.
Roman is the next big thing in the NFL, a man who is taking an already fast-shifting offensive landscape to previously unseen locales with creative game plans and personnel packages.
“Every week when we come in with game plan, it's not cookie cutter. It's a whole new plan, and guys appreciate it,” 49ers backup quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “He is an out-of-the-box thinker, and it shows on Sunday. Those defenses are caught off guard by his plan every week.”
Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch counted 10 personnel groupings during the first 15 snaps of their game earlier this season, the kind of rapid player shuffling he's never seen before.
“I think we try to be creative, try to keep people off balance, try to have fun,” Roman said. “I think what we do stimulates our players. When they come in every week, there's always something new, and they get really excited about what's next. We're definitely open to try something, anything, that will help us win.”
That's Roman's reputation, too.
“I think Greg Roman has done a job that is revolutionary in football,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, “the way he has mixed the trap, the power, the wham plays into the pistol offense and into our conventional offense.”
He almost did it at Pitt and Penn State, interviewing at both schools in the past two years.
Even with a quarterback who has started only half a season, the 49ers are No. 1 offensively in the playoffs, averaging 476 yards per game. No other team is within 30 yards of them.
Caldwell, who took over as Ravens offensive coordinator after Cam Cameron was fired Dec. 10, doesn't believe there is anything wrong with what's worked before.
The former Colts head coach, with not much time to perform a turnaround, took an inconsistent offense and stabilized it by reshuffling the offensive line, re-emphasizing the run and gaining the trust of low-key quarterback Joe Flacco, who bonded with Caldwell almost immediately.
“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,” Flacco said.
Taking over barely a week after Ray Rice had a big third quarter against the Steelers on Dec. 2 only to not touch the ball in the fourth quarter, Caldwell put a greater focus on the run game. As a result, the Ravens are averaging 155.3 yards rushing in their past six games compared to 108.8 under Cameron. Yet Flacco also is thriving, with 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions in five games.
“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,” Caldwell said. “We have to change it up quite a bit.”
The 49ers reached the Super Bowl by changing quarterbacks, from the effective but less-dynamic Alex Smith to the unconventional Colin Kaepernick. The Ravens made it by changing coordinators, the kind of move than can ruin a season, especially given the timing.
Now that's innovative change.