Wins - Ravens could use one for the road

With game in Chicago today, team looks to end 5-game drought away from home

October 23, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

Today's trip leads to Chicago's Soldier Field, but the Ravens can only hope it doesn't detour into another bizarre dead end.

The road has been where reason stops and tortuous memories start.

Last month in Tennessee, there were no first downs in the first half and a franchise-worst 14 yards rushing in the game. Two weeks ago in Detroit, there were a team-record 21 penalties and two ejections.

If there's a cosmic explanation to it all, Brian Billick, the Ravens' seventh-year coach, doesn't have one.

"You can look at what we eat, when we leave, who the flight attendants are, or what hotel we stay in," Billick said. "When you're playing well, that doesn't matter. It's all about the preparation, and our preparation has been excellent. I'm going to rely on it."

Billick has had a long time to ponder the Ravens' deficiencies on the road.

Their last victory away from home came Nov. 14 at the New York Jets, a drought of 342 days. Their five-game road losing streak - which ties four other teams for the longest current skid in the NFL - has been a series of routs, which have produced a 15.4-point average margin of defeat.

The problem in this stretch has been a lack of points (an average of 9.4) and an abundance of turnovers (a minus-6 differential).

"What we got to do is try to play mistake-free football, especially on the road because it becomes critical that you don't turn the ball over," receiver Derrick Mason said. "I think we're a good enough team that we learn from our mistakes and we're going to go forward."

If the Ravens (2-3) can win on the road, their celebration could overshadow the one already planned by the Bears (2-3).

Chicago will honor its 1985 Super Bowl champions today, and it seems only appropriate that the game pits two of the best defenses and middle linebackers in the NFL.

The Ravens' defense ranks second overall; the Bears' is third.

The Ravens have given up the fewest yards per play; Chicago is once again right behind them at No. 2.

The Bears have the higher-ranked run defense; the Ravens have the better pass defense.

The one caveat is that the Ravens will be without safety Ed Reed, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 who sprained his ankle last Sunday.

"It's a good matchup," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We talk a lot about their defense, and I'm going to continue to talk a lot about our defense. We don't think we're second fiddle to anyone."

A similar debate is brewing between the middle linebackers: the Ravens' Ray Lewis vs. the Bears' Brian Urlacher.

When asked by Chicago reporters if he's the best middle linebacker in the game, Lewis said, "Definitely. I don't play for no other reason."

Urlacher declined to get involved in the argument.

"Whatever he thinks," Urlacher said. "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion."

The ongoing argument is as unclear as the Ravens' offensive game plan.

Even without receiver Mark Clayton (sprained ankle), Billick indicated - seemingly tongue-in-cheek - that the Ravens could try to air it out against Chicago.

"I wasn't kidding about that four-wide [formation]," Billick said. "We may look like the run-and-shoot."

It might have been his way to divert attention from the Ravens' running back situation.

With backup Chester Taylor's rushing average nearly doubling Jamal Lewis', Billick has had to come to the defense of his long-time starter. Lewis is trying to avoid a sixth straight game without 100 yards, a rut he has never experienced in his career.

"If you want to bring a huge smile to the face of our opponents, we can out-think ourselves and say, `You know what? Maybe we'll cut back on the number of carries that Jamal Lewis has,'" Billick said. "The people in Chicago would take the day off and say, `Thank you very much, Coach.' We're just not going to do it. Jamal's too much of a factor for us."

Likewise, the Ravens are fixated on the Bears' running game, especially with Chicago starting a rookie quarterback. After five career games, Kyle Orton has the second-worst rating among starting quarterbacks (57.7).

Bears running back Thomas Jones has picked up the slack, recording three 100-yard games this season. He has accounted for 41 percent of Chicago's total yards and has scored as many touchdowns (six) as the Ravens.

"Why would I focus on who is the quarterback? What makes the offense go is their running game," Ray Lewis told Chicago reporters. "They've made it up in their mind that they want to run the football and play good defense. And that's why I'm coming in with the mind-set of trying to stop the running back."

As far as this up-and-down season, the Ravens have to find the mind-set of winning on the road.

Even if the Ravens win their five remaining home games, they most likely would need to split their last six road contests. Of those road opponents, only Chicago and the Cleveland Browns currently have losing records.

"It's always hard to win on the road," Billick said. "There's no other way to say it. It just adds a whole other layer in the mentality you take into the game: You against the crowd and you against the whole atmosphere. We have to play well on the road [today] in order to get done what we want to get done this season."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The low road

A look at the Ravens' five-game road losing streak, which dates to last season:

Date Site Score Skinny

11-28-04 New England L, 24-3 Team-record low of 124 yards of total offense

12-19-04 Indianapolis L, 20-10 Held Peyton Manning to one TD pass and still lost

12-26-04 Pittsburgh L, 20-7 Gave up a season-worst 183 yards rushing

9-18-05 Tennessee L, 25-10 Offense had no first downs in the first half

10-9-05 Detroit L, 35-17 Team-record 21 penalties and two player ejections

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