By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
6:52 PM EDT, October 1, 2012
There's not a whole lot that Matt Birk remembers about the Ravens' 30-7 playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium during the 2010 season.
But he does recall one sequence near the Chiefs' goal line that will serve as a reminder this week of the challenge that the Ravens confront Sunday when they return to Arrowhead to face a struggling Kansas City team.
"Obviously, I am pretty close to Joe [Flacco] before the snap, and I could hardly hear him," Birk recalled Monday. "You just feel the vibration of the voice, that's how loud it is. But, you know going in that's what it's going to be and that's a challenge that we'll have to overcome."
The Chiefs are 1-3 and tied for last with the Oakland Raiders in the AFC West. They've won just three of their last 12 home games. In two games at Arrowhead this season, they've given up 77 points, prompting a column Monday in the Kansas City Star to call for the ouster of everyone from general manager Scott Pioli to head coach Romeo Crennel to quarterback Matt Cassel.
But as the Ravens returned to their practice facility Monday to begin preparations for the Chiefs, coach John Harbaugh and his players found plenty of things to be wary of, starting with an offense that averages 419.5 yards per game, and includes the explosive Jamaal Charles, the second leading rusher in the NFL.
Then, there's the noise effect and despite their recent struggles at Arrowhead, it has long been considered one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL.
"The times we played there, it's been really loud," Harbaugh said. "We played there in the playoffs obviously. It's one of the greatest venues in the NFL. It's a beautiful setting, it's traditional, it's really, really loud. It's a sea of red. Our guys have to be ready for that."
As they always do before road games, the Ravens are expected to turn up the speakers during practice this week. However, they acknowledged Monday that there's only so much simulation that they can do to prepare for what many players have described as the loudest stadium in the NFL.
That is by design as the stadium was built partially below ground-level with high seating walls on both sides of the bowl. That has created an echo effect, where sound gets deflected back to the field. Several years ago, the Acoustical Design Group of Kansas reportedly measured the Arrowhead crowd noise at 116 decibels, which eclipsed the sound of some aircraft taking off.
"Seriously, it could be," said Birk when asked if Arrowhead is the loudest stadium in the NFL. Birk has played home games in several of the candidates, including the Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome and the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium. "It's not the most recently architecturally engineered stadium out there, but it's loud."
Some of the pressure of combating the crowd noise will undoubtedly fall on Birk's shoulders. That has taken on an added dimension this year with the Ravens operating so much out of the no-huddle offense. Birk acknowledged that loud crowd noise is "an obstacle" for the no-huddle and cited the importance of working on non-verbal ways of communicating with his quarterback and the rest of the offense.
"Obviously, it limits your communication, but that's the home-field advantage," Birk said. "That's really what it is. It limits the offense's ability to communicate and to communicate quickly. It will be a great challenge for us, but obviously, like we are every week, we are looking forward to it."
During a 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 at loud Lincoln Financial Field, the Ravens used the no-huddle six times in 65 total offensive plays, and four of them were in the first half. Those numbers are down significantly to how much the Ravens have used it during their other three games, all wins.
"It's a work-in progress, all of it," Harbaugh said. "We're not claiming that we're a finished product with our no-huddle by any stretch nor any other part of our scheme anywhere. We want to keep getting better at that, we want to keep continuing to put more pressure on defenses, make defenses more uncomfortable. Crowd noise is a two-way street. If it's tough on our offense, it's tough on their defense as well. It's up to us to make it difficult on them. They know that and they'll work on that all week. We'll just see how much we use it."
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