Ravens won't be out of whack after a week of work

Unlike the last time they had a bye heading into the playoffs, the Ravens only took a few days off this week

January 07, 2012|Peter Schmuck

The Ravens spent so much time, effort and emotion trying to earn their first-round bye in this year's playoffs that they have every right to enjoy a few extra days off and exploit the opportunity to freshen up for next week's divisional round.

They earned that with their 12-4 season and their spotless record inside the AFC North. Now, they have to take full advantage, something they were not able to do the last time they were in this situation.

No one needs to be reminded of the last time the Ravens had an extra week to prepare for a playoff opponent. If you don't remember that devastating loss to the Indianapolis Colts five years ago, you're one of the lucky ones and I won't bore you with the particulars, but there are a lot of reasons to be confident the same kind of thing won't happen this time around.

First and foremost is John Harbaugh's impressive record in situations where the Ravens have had extra time to prepare for an opponent. In his four years as coach, the Ravens have won all four times they have played a regular-season game after the bye week and all four of those victories have been by at least 15 points.

Maybe that's a coincidence or just a reflection of how good the Ravens have been overall during the Harbaugh era, but some of the veteran players who were around when the Ravens lost their last home playoff game see a cause-and-effect relationship between the Harbaugh routine and his team's strong bye-week performances.

"I feel more confident about the way we are preparing this week,'' said linebacker Jarret Johnson. "That year (2006), we were 13-3, we had a record-setting — statistically-wise — defense, and we took like seven days off. We went home. We didn't see each other for a long time. Was that the reason we lost? I don't know. Probably not, but I like what we're doing out there. …You never lose your routine, and you don't get out of whack."

Funny, but if memory serves, there were some veterans who thought Harbaugh had a little too much drill sergeant in him when he showed up here for the 2008 season. Now, you've got the team leaders fully on board with the program, which has been proven out by four straight appearances in the postseason.

The Ravens are getting some time to rest, recharge their batteries and watch some of their possible opponents on television this weekend, but they stayed together during the bye week for two days of conditioning and a couple of practice days.

"I like the routine,'' said Terrell Suggs. "I like that we all stayed around. We're not taking the noose off. They say never take the noose off a mule, because it's not going back on there. I like that we still all stayed in football and kind of stayed grounded in football."

Of course, there's one big difference between a regular-season bye week and a playoff bye week, other than the added intensity of the postseason. During the regular season, the next opponent is right there on the schedule. This week, the Ravens and the other bye teams have to wait a week to be sure who they are going to play.

Harbaugh can say that the Ravens have been holding off on matchup game preparation until they know who they will play next week, but you can bet that the coaching staff has been more focused on the Texans than either of the Ravens' other potential division round opponents.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh ruffled some feathers the other day when he said on a Bay Area radio show that the 49ers were more focused on the New Orleans Saints than the Detroit Lions during the bye week, but he was just being honest — and logical. The 49ers played the Lions during the regular season, so they've already done some of that homework. They have not played the Saints, so it only makes sense to start getting more familiar with them. The fact that the Saints are a double-digit favorite might make that decision easier, but it wasn't a case of Harbaugh taking the Lions for granted. That regular-season matchup came down to a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game.

Though the Ravens have played both the Texans and Steelers and have not played the Denver Broncos, the Texans would have been the logical choice for a little extra film work this past week because they are a different team with former No. 3 quarterback T.J. Yates playing from what they were with veteran Matt Schaub behind center when they visited M&T Bank Stadium in October.

Harbaugh isn't letting on, of course. All you really need to know is that the system works.

peter.schmuch@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at 10 on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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