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Will Higher Altitude Be A Problem?

Posted Jan 9, 2013

The Broncos have a homefield advantage of being acclimated to the higher altitude.

The Denver Broncos may have the most tangible homefield advantage in the NFL.

It’s not that their fans are louder or that their stadium traps crowd noise, it’s the fact that the city of Denver sits about 5,200 feet about sea level (Baltimore is about 480 feet about sea level). That’s why the Broncos’ former stadium was famously called Mile High Stadium for 41 years.

The higher altitude creates a challenge for opponents, who quickly have to adapt to exerting themselves in that atmosphere. 

“The altitude is going to be a problem,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “Unless we’re going to drive there and practice there for the next week, we can’t really prepare for it.

“We know what’s coming. It’s like if I tell you to walk around that corner and you know somebody is going to punch you, but [I say] ‘just walk.’ We’re going.”

The lower oxygen levels at the higher altitude can create strain on the lungs and body. Athletes competing at higher altitudes take in less oxygen per breath, and they have to allow time for their bodies to adapt.

With only six days between games, the Ravens don’t have the luxury of having much time to get acclimated. The Ravens will take off for Denver Friday afternoon, which Head Coach John Harbaugh said is the best approach based on the studies and information the team has reviewed.

“We reach out to our doctors and experts in the field who know a lot more about it than we do about it as coaches or players,” Harbaugh said. “They give us their advice, and we follow it and do the best we can with it.”

The Ravens haven’t traveled to Denver since 2006. The Ravens are 1-3 all-time in games played in Denver.

“We know and understand that it’s going to be an issue,” Pollard said. “That’s for us as pros to step into that thing. If that means going out at pregame, running as much as we can, trying to get gassed as much as we can, that’s what we need to do.”

The Ravens can do their best to prepare for altitude change, but they also recognize that it’s a disadvantage they will simply have to overcome.

“It’s a factor,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an advantage, obviously, for the Broncos. They live there. They play there. They practice there. No matter who goes out there and plays – playoff game or not – it’s got to be an advantage for them. It has been over the years. But there are always advantages in every situation, and we will do the best we can to deal with it.”

While Harbaugh and a number of the players acknowledged the challenge that comes with the altitude change, they weren’t interested in using it as an excuse.

“Look, if it was life or death, then you make it an issue,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “It’s not life or death; it’s just going out and playing [in] a different climate and whatever it is. They have to play in the same climate we are in whether they’re acclimated to it or not. Coach didn’t make it an issue, so we’re not going to make it an issue. It’s a 60-minute football game.”

One person who could benefit from the altitude change is kicker Justin Tucker, as field goal kickers often have longer range in high altitude. Sebastian Janikowski, Jason Elam, David Akers and Tom Dempsey are tied for the NFL record with 63-yard field goals. Janikowski’s and Elam’s both came in Denver.

Tucker has shown off his long range throughout the season by booting four kicks longer than 50 yards, and Harbaugh said he could “absolutely” see the Ravens trying a longer field goal than normal with Tucker Saturday.

“The way we’ve been thinking about it is, let’s hit a straight ball first, and then however far it carries that’s how far it carries,” Tucker said. “We find that out in pregame usually. We’re not going to be able to find that out here."

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