The Ravens may not have an explanation, but they have certainly ruled some things out.
Weather? The Ravens played on beautiful afternoons in Philadelphia, Kansas City and Houston.
Playing field? All three games were on grass, the same surface the Ravens practice on.
Travel plans? The Ravens essentially have stuck to the same schedule that they used from 2008 to 2010, when they won four road playoff games under coach John Harbaugh.
"We've looked at it all," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We've got it all covered. We've got the same shoes, the same [uniforms], a lot of that stuff."
Cameron was obviously joking but neither he, nor Harbaugh, nor the players are making light of the Ravens' inconsistent — and at times inept — play on the road this season. As they head to Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday to face a team they've beaten nine straight times, the Ravens are hoping to end a troubling pattern that has been as hard to explain as it is to correct.
"I don't get it," Ravens second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "We've just got to play better. It's really simple to me, but for us, it's a lot easier said than done."
Road difficulties are not a recent revelation in the NFL. Even the Ravens, who have gone to the playoffs eight times over the past 12 seasons and again find themselves atop the AFC North, have posted just four winning road campaigns in the past 16 years.
However, this year's struggles away from M&T Bank Stadium have been especially troubling because of the stark contrast between their offense's home and road performance, and just how poorly the Ravens played in falling to the Eagles, 24-23, in Week 2, beating the lowly Chiefs, 9-6, in Week 5, and getting dominated by the Texans, 43-13, two weeks ago.
"It's a factor," said Harbaugh, whose team is 18-17 in regular-season road games during his tenure. "We've got to play better on the road. We know that. We're going to hear about it until we do better."
In four home victories this season, the Ravens have averaged 32 points, 422 yards of offense and committed two turnovers. In three games on the road, the Ravens have mustered just 15 points per game while averaging 266 yards of offense and turning the ball over six times.
The offense's split personality is exemplified by fifth-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who has looked elite at M&T Bank Stadium and overmatched elsewhere. At home, Flacco has amassed 1,271 passing yards, completed 67.1 percent of his throws and connected on seven touchdown passes to two interceptions. On the road, Flacco has thrown for 566 yards, completed 50 percent of his passes and tossed two touchdowns compared to four interceptions. His road woes peaked in Houston when Flacco took a 4.2 quarterback rating into halftime.
"We definitely look at it," said Flacco, denying that the Ravens' road woes keep him up at night, but acknowledging they have become a topic of conversation with the team. "Communication is definitely more of an issue when you're playing on the road. There [are] ways that we just have to go about communicating better when we have to."
Before this season, Flacco had shown the ability to go into a hostile environment and pull out victories against quality opponents. He led the Ravens to playoff victories in Miami and Tennessee in his rookie year. A season later, the Ravens throttled the New England Patriots on their home field in a wild-card game at Gillette Stadium, matched in the following campaign by a dominating playoff victory over the Chiefs at loud Arrowhead Stadium.
While the offense was punchless last year in head-scratching road losses to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks, Flacco and Smith connected for a last-second score to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. They also downed a playoff-bound Cincinnati Bengals team at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 16 to win the division, and then went on the road and nearly upset the Patriots in the AFC championship game before they were foiled by a late dropped pass and missed field goal.
However, through the first half of this season, the Ravens' offense has struggled to string together first downs away from home, never mind engineer late game-winning drives. Ravens rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele summed up the root of the road issues as "pretty much communication and game planning, getting out-coached and out-played."
Cameron has been the target of most of the fan discontent over the offense's road woes with the frequent complaint being that he hasn't gotten Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice the ball enough the past two seasons. In the Ravens' six road defeats since the start of the 2011 campaign, Rice has had 10 carries or fewer in four of them, including rushing just nine times against the Texans last month.
Though he acknowledged Thursday that he doesn't disagree with the notion that Rice should get the ball more, Cameron defended the Ravens' usage of the back, pointing out that game situations, such as a 26-point halftime deficit versus the Texans, have forced the team at times to abandon the running game earlier than it hoped. He also alluded to Flacco checking out of other running plays on occasion.
"It's common knowledge all the leeway that Joe has at the line of scrimmage now. Everybody knows the options that he has and communication, the one thing we're not quite as good at on the road as we are at home is being on the same page," Cameron said. "We're looking at everything from a communication standpoint, how we can make sure on the road that we're on the same page. Does that mean we aren't going to audible? Not at all. That's a huge part of what we do."
Flacco said it "would be a little bit foolish" to abandon the team's nascent no-huddle offense simply because it wasn't effective for much of the first three games on the road, though he was among several players to point out that communication definitely needs to improve and that the opposing crowd noise has posed problems.
The Ravens' offensive line has allowed 10 sacks in three road games compared to eight in four home contests, and Osemele admitted there have been a couple of instances where the offensive tackles didn't hear the calls being made at the line in enough time to make an adjustment.
The Ravens' coaching staff studied all sorts of potential offensive issues during the bye week and players are convinced that some of their problems in their first three road games have been corrected. Sunday will be the first opportunity to show it, and end a trend that has been both frustrating and confounding.
"We try to come up with little different things — little different signals — but we all have to be on the same page," Rice said. "I think the second half of the year, the best thing we have to do is all be on the same page, and let Joe drive this thing, let the coaches call the plays, and we'll go out there and execute at a high level."
Since the start of last season, the Ravens have been a totally different team at home than on the road. Here is the proof:
Reg. season record: 12-0 5-6
Avg. points scored: 29.0 18.5
Avg. points allowed: 17.3 20.0
Avg. Yds per game: 367.9 317.4
Avg. Yds allowed: 300.9 348.0
Avg passing yards 248.1 200.3
Avg passing yards allowed 205.7 226.2
Avg rushing yards 119.8 117.1
Avg rushing yards allowed 95.2 121.8
Turnovers 13 19
Turnovers caused 23 16
Sacks 41 19
Sacks allowed 20 31
Penalties-Yards 91-830 59-451
Ray Rice's carries: 239 158
Joe Flacco's pass attempts: 284 280
A different quarterback
There are several explanations for why the Ravens' offense has been dominant at home and inept at times on the road, but looking at quarterback Joe Flacco's splits is a good place to start.
Flacco at home Flacco on the road
Record 31-5 18-17
Completion pct. 62.0 59.4
Passing yards 8,214 7,439
Touchdowns 46 43
Interceptions 21 31
Quarterback rating 92.2 79.8
Times sacked 63 94
Lost fumbles 6 9Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun