It was up to the Houston Texans to decide whether to have the roof of Reliant Stadium open or closed for Sunday’s game against the Ravens. According to the Ravens’ game-day schedule, a decision was due three hours before kickoff.
I was in the press box then and wondered aloud about the pending decision.
"Oh, the roof will be closed. There’s no question,” a Houston-based reporter said.
"How are you so sure?” I asked.
"Because the Ravens run a no-huddle offense,” he said. "The Texans want it to be loud in here today."
The Texans’ roof policy, posted on their Web site, states they will consider opening it when the temperature is between 50 and 80, and it was hotter than that Sunday, so their decision had a solid basis.
But the fact that the Ravens’ no-huddle was even whispered as a possible factor illustrates how tough life is on the road. Things are stacked against you. You’re away from what you know best. The fans hate your guts. The other team can control the environment. Crowd noise can influence officials.
There is no data trail explaining why home teams win more, but they do.
The Ravens are catching heat this week because their lopsided loss in loud, air-conditioned Reliant Stadium dropped them to 1-2 on the road this year, as opposed to 4-0 at home. Since 2010, they’re 19-1 at home and 10-9 on the road.
There’s nothing disastrous about being around .500 on the road. That’s better than the league average. Some teams practically never win away from home.
But the Ravens aren’t just any team; they’re trying to make it to the playoffs for a fifth straight year and began this season with Super Bowl aspirations. If those are for real, they should be tough at home and more decent on the road.
Their performances away from M&T Bank Stadium have become alarming, however, especially on offense. The Ravens are averaging 32.3 points per game at home, less than half that (15) on the road; 24 first downs per game at home, again less than half that (11.3) on the road; 421 net offensive yards per game at home, 266 on the road.
"It’s like we’re two different teams now, on the road versus at home,” safety
With five road games left, including visits to Pittsburgh and San Diego, the Ravens obviously have to fix what is ailing them or they’re likely to be sorry.
But what, exactly, is wrong?
Trying to answer that question brings to mind the clichés about trying to catch the wind or herd cats. Good luck. Road woes aren’t like a nasty cut you can simply stitch up. They’re vague. Home teams have been winning for years for reasons no one can precisely pinpoint.
During the offseason, the Ravens went so far as to study their sleep patterns on West Coast trips after going 0-2 there in 2011. Their thoroughness is impressive, but who knows what, if anything, might actually make a difference?
I went around the locker room Sunday asking players what their problem was.
It could be a larger issue, a blueprint issue. The fans will like that Harbaugh said Monday his staff would use the bye to consider whether their offense really was up to running the hurry-up against top defenses in tough road environments. He saw what you saw, in other words, and now everything is back on the table – how much to run the ball, how much to communicate at the line, what the right pace is.
A more traditional attack could reappear when the Ravens take on the Browns in Cleveland in their next game. Maybe that’s the entire solution. Maybe not.
But just to complete the story, within an hour of the final play Sunday, the roof at Reliant Stadium was open and 80,000 empty seats and the clean-up crew were enjoying a nice, sunny fall afternoon.