The Long Road

Sorry they're away so much: Ravens to travel for 5 of next 6

October 07, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

A day after a questionable penalty factored in their 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens can look ahead to their next challenge, which also comes compliments of the NFL.

The Ravens (2-2) are about to begin the toughest road stretch in the team's 13-year history when they travel for five of their next six games. This daunting test is the result of the league's moving the Ravens' Week 2 game at Houston to their Nov. 9 bye because of Hurricane Ike.

While coach John Harbaugh knows what lies ahead, he doesn't plan to address the situation with his players.

"I think the NFL is a challenge whether you play at home or you play on the road," he said. "Our guys are very capable of winning on the road. We expect to go win every one of those football games when they come up."

Only one of the next five road opponents has a winning record.

The Ravens play the next two weeks at Indianapolis (2-2) and Miami (2-2). After a home game against the Oakland Raiders (1-3), the Ravens head to Cleveland (1-3), Houston (0-4) and New York, where they'll play the undefeated Giants (4-0).

"We welcome challenges. It could be fun," wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "I personally like playing on the road. You get their fans booing and telling you that you [stink]. That's fine. ... The game is played in between the lines. The crowd can affect the game, but we know how to play."

The Ravens have lost eight of their past nine road games, including six straight. Their most recent win away from home was Oct. 7, 2007, a 9-7 victory at San Francisco.

"It's going to be a big stretch for us, but I can't wait to do it," running back Le'Ron McClain said. "If we overcome it, big things will come for this team."

Here are five questions for the Ravens leading up to their five road games:

How badly is the secondary banged up?

Along with missing strong safety Dawan Landry (neck), the Ravens will be without cornerback Samari Rolle (neck). There is a chance the Ravens could be without Fabian Washington (shoulder), which means they might start No. 4 cornerback Frank Walker.

Of their coming five road opponents, only the Giants and the Colts rank in the top 10 in passing. But it could be dangerous to play quarterback Peyton Manning on Sunday with a depleted secondary.

"It's always a challenge," Harbaugh said of facing Manning. "Our secondary will be at full strength for the guys that are healthy. The guys that will go out there will be counted on to get the job done. I think they'll play really well."

Are the Ravens a marked team with officials?

The Ravens have fallen into some bad habits, committing 19 penalties in two weeks. Two personal fouls - Jarret Johnson in Pittsburgh and Terrell Suggs against Tennessee - have played a role in a couple of three-point losses.

After Sunday's game, Suggs suggested officials look at the Ravens more closely than other teams.

Harbaugh didn't address the issue, saying, "that's history.

"We got competitive guys, men of integrity," he said. "We're going to be a rough, tough, hard-hitting and hard-playing football team. We're going to do it with class and within the rules and with great self-discipline. That's where we're going as a football team."

Should the Ravens be concerned about Matt Stover's misses?

The third-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history has surprisingly struggled, missing three of seven attempts this season. His 45-yarder that sailed wide right Sunday was magnified by the fact that the Ravens lost by three points.

"It's not so much age as it is knocking it through the uprights," Harbaugh said of his 40-year-old kicker. "Sometimes, Matt is thinking about the direction of the kick instead of punching it right between the sticks. We have confidence in Matt. I know he can kick. Matt knows he can kick. I don't doubt for one second that he's going to make a ton of field goals for us."

Is game management a problem?

Some questioned Harbaugh's decision to go for a field goal rather than run another offensive play with 14 seconds left in the first half.

But the real problem was why it took the Ravens so long to get a play off. After a 14-yard run by Willis McGahee, the Ravens wasted at least 15 seconds lining up before a false-start penalty stopped the clock with 14 seconds.

The Ravens didn't spike the ball because they wanted to run a play that could've resulted in a touchdown.

"It was a scenario where we got to operate better there," Harbaugh said. "We got to do a better job communicating and a better job of getting on the line and making it happen faster."

Are the Ravens worried about Joe Flacco's recent turnovers?

Harbaugh said he doesn't want to refer to Flacco as a rookie quarterback.

"He's our quarterback," he said.

But Flacco has turned the ball over five times (four interceptions and one fumble) in the past three games, a problem Harbaugh believes can be corrected over time.

"It's gaining an understanding of what the guys that he's playing against are capable of doing," Harbaugh said. "Until you get out there and experience that for yourself, there's no way to know it. As a football team, we need to overcome that learning process he's going through and come up with plays to win football games so we can learn with victories."

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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