By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
9:06 PM EST, December 11, 2013
The Ravens were blown out in Denver, they self-destructed in Buffalo and they didn't make the key plays late in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago.
After three straight victories at home, the Ravens understand that the only way they'll make the playoffs is if they figure out how to reverse their futility on the road this season. They are just 1-5 away from M&T Bank Stadium, and with road games set for two of the next three weeks, the Ravens can no longer depend on their home dominance to get them into the postseason.
For the Ravens, their path to the playoffs goes through Ford Field on Monday night when they face the Detroit Lions (7-6).
"There's no disrespect calling a spade a spade, but the season isn't over yet," said Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs when asked about the team's road mark. "We still have two on the road and we need these two, so I guess we'll have an answer to that question come the end of the season. But as of right now, we're not too much worried about it. We've got to go to Detroit, come home against New England and then we go to Cincinnati. But first things first, we've got to handle Detroit."
In the previous five seasons under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have specialized in winning big games on the road. Harbaugh had a 21-19 road record entering this season and his squad had won an away playoff game in four of the previous five seasons. On their way to the franchise's second Super Bowl last year, the Ravens went on the road to beat the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. The Ravens' worst road record since Harbaugh took over was 3-5 in 2009.
Even this year, the Ravens have talked about how much they enjoy the challenge of going on the road and being cast as the villains in opposing stadiums. That's why it's curious that this year's team has been at its collective worst any time it has left the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens are 6-1 this season.
"We've won the close games at home, and we haven't won them on the road," Harbaugh said. "That's the bottom line. We've done the things we needed to do to win tight games at home, and we haven't done the things we needed to do on the road. It's us — it's what we've done — the plays we've made or haven't made that have been the difference."
Every coach talks about the difficulty of winning on the road and only eight of 32 teams currently have a winning road mark. For the Ravens, the loss to the Broncos, arguably the best team in the AFC, to open the season was forgivable. The Steelers matchup is always a one-possession game that can go either way. The two-hour delay at Soldier Field, coupled by the field conditions, certainly had a major effect in a game in which the Ravens led the Bears, 10-0, early in the second quarter.
Overall, three of the Ravens' five road losses were by three points and another was decided by six so one or two plays has indeed made the difference. But losing road games to the Bills and Browns, two 4-9 teams? That's much harder to explain, especially at a time where the Ravens can't afford a setback to stay ahead of the Miami Dolphins and others for the sixth and final playoff spot.
"It's just a lot of things. We're just not playing well enough consistently, and turnovers are always a big part of that," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We've put ourselves in a lot of bad situations. We haven't kept ourselves on the field — converting first downs, turnovers — we haven't scored touchdowns at times when we've needed to consistently enough. … We always tend to play a little bit better at home in the regular season, for whatever reason. So yes, I'm always a little bit surprised when our record away is so much different than our record at home. But, going down the stretch here, I have all the confidence in the world that we'll get it going and we'll play some good games away."
The Ravens are averaging virtually the same number of points on the road (21.2) than at home (21.6), and the offense has actually averaged more yards on the road (334) compared to home (289.9). Many of the splits are negligible.
However, Flacco's home/road statistics are probably as big of an explanation as any for the Ravens' road woes. The Ravens have turned the ball over 13 times in six road games compared to nine in seven home contests. Flacco has thrown 10 touchdowns and six interceptions at M&T Bank Stadium, compared to eight touchdowns and 11 picks on the road.
"You need to self-check yourself and not give away anything on the road," Ravens tight end Ed Dickson said. "That's yards or take-aways, you need to be greedy with the ball. Especially on offense, you've got to have zero turnovers. They're already going into it with the home-field advantage, so you got to play better on the road than you do at home."
On defense, the Ravens' road numbers are heavily influenced by allowing 49 points and 510 total yards in the opener in Denver. Overall, they've surrendered 26.8 points on the road and 14.3 at home. They've also allowed on average 345.7 yards of offense away from home, which is 24 yards more per game than the opposition has gained on them at M&T Bank Stadium.
Players insist that there is no magic solution to fix the team's road woes. They say that there is no need to adjust the travel schedules or alter how the team prepares ahead of road contests. It's just a matter of playing better and the rest will take care of itself.
"Clearly, we haven't been executing on the road," said Ravens defensive end Chris Canty. "We need to be successful there, and it's apparent in our record. We've got to concentrate on playing fundamental football, understanding how we win football games and continue to try to replicate and build on the success that we've already had."
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.
The Ravens' struggles on the road will have to be rectified if they want to make the postseason:
|Pts per game||21.6||21.2|
|Pts allowed per game||14.3||26.8|
|Total yards allowed||321.9||345.7|
|Joe Flacco TD passes||10||8|
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