Byrne Identity: Better on the Road?

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Huh?

Of course not. Teams always have a better home record than what they produce on the road. That's just one of the laws of sports.

Look at the 2008 Ravens. John Harbaugh's 1st team won 6 of 8 at M&T Bank Stadium, and with the playoffs, were 7-4 on the road. Those are winning percentages of .750 and .636, respectively. (Both pretty good, by the way.)

There are a number of factors that make winning at home easier:

  • There are no intrusions to a player's daily schedule
  • There are no flights to another city
  • Players are more familiar with the nuances of their home stadiums
  • The home crowd helps

But, is all of that really true?

Let's take intrusions to the players' schedule. True, our players have to stay in a hotel the night before a game when we're on the road. But, did you know, our players also stay in a hotel for Ravens home games? So, there is no comfort of your own bed the night before a game, home or away. For home games, our players do get a little time Saturday afternoons after morning meetings and practice. However, many players have family and friends who come to Baltimore for games, and, no offense moms, dads and buddies, you can be a distraction.

Certainly, we don't have to travel to other cities when we play at home. But, when you travel, we obviously know what everyone is doing, and most are using the time on a flight to nap, watch a movie or study a game plan.

Familiarity with your stadium is a real advantage. Players have the right kind of cleats. Kickers know the winds. Heck, we even study where the sun is and call plays accordingly. (I've seen opposing cornerbacks and receivers lose balls in the sun at M&T, while our players make those plays. Or, we'll call an offensive play to the other side of the field, where our receiver doesn't have to find the ball coming out of the sun.)

Now, here's where it gets interesting: the home crowd really does help…the offense. Fans shut up when their team has the ball. That gives the home offense a real edge. Defenses, on the other hand, are harder to run, especially when your home crowd is as good and as loud as ours is at M&T Bank Stadium.

Think about it.

We employ, and have long used, a very sophisticated defense that requires substantial communication when the other team comes to the line of scrimmage. At our home games, our defenders have great difficulty communicating verbally. It's that loud – and we want you to keep that noise coming. On the road, our defenders can hold complete conversations. And, when you have very alert, intelligent defenders like Ray LewisEd Reed and Trevor Pryce, they can adjust on the fly, change the defense at the last minute and, honestly, often call out the correct prediction of the play that is about to happen. I've been in our bench area at road games and have heard Lewis yell out something like: "Screen right. Coming at you J.J. (Jarret Johnson)." And then marvel when that is exactly what happens, and we stop the play behind the line of scrimmage.

(By the way, every Ravens defensive coordinator has commented to me about how defenses are treated 2nd class in the NFL. From Marvin (Lewis), to Mike (Nolan) to Rex (Ryan), all have observed – well, whined a little – about how the league always makes rules to increase scoring and yards gained, but never alters the game in the defense's favor. Plus, every time we play on the road, at least one reporter that week will ask the head coach and quarterback: "Are you guys ready for the noise at such-and-such stadium?" Reporters never ask Ray or Ed, "Have you guys worked on hand signals to cope with the noise at M&T?"

Some of you will recall that when we faced the Colts in Baltimore in a playoff game after our 13-3 2006 regular season, Rex Ryan asked the area media to instruct the Ravens' fans to keep quiet until there was less than 15 seconds on the play clock. Ryan believed that would give our defenders a chance to talk to each other when Peyton Manning and the Colts ran their no-huddle offense, but then have enough noise so Indy would have trouble hearing Manning call the snap count. Pretty sophisticated and a bit tricky for the fans to achieve…as you know, the Colts still beat us that night.)

I haven't done a big study on this, but I bet great defensive players have made more big plays on the road than they have done at their home stadiums. For example, Ray had three interceptions last season – all on the road. Terrell Suggs had two interceptions for touchdowns last season: a 44-yarder at Miami (10/19) and a 42-yard theft and run at Cleveland (11/2).

I'm just saying…if you gave our defenders some truth serum and asked them if they would rather play an excellent and multi-dimensional offense like San Diego at M&T Bank Stadium or at the Chargers, what would they say? I think many of you would be surprised by the answer.

By the way, the windows in my office are vibrating from the noise at our practice right now. Coach Harbaugh uses 13 huge speakers each practice, and these monsters blast crowd noise. This week, the noise blares when our offense is running the Chargers' script. Last week, before the home game against the Chiefs, our defense got blasted with this cacophony.

HOW ABOUT THESE NUMBERS?

While the telecasts of the Ravens' games have always been the most watched shows annually in the Baltimore area, I've been often disappointed when our viewers were compared to other NFL teams. For many years, the number of our fans watching our games locally was rated in the bottom quarter among league teams. Long-time, traditional franchises like Chicago, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would dwarf us with their local TV numbers.

Not anymore. Our opener against the Chiefs had the 10th-highest local TV rating in the NFL. Teams like the Redskins (12th), Cleveland (13th), Dallas (14th), Philadelphia (18th) and Detroit (23rd) – all long-time NFL teams with generations of strong fans – finished below us. What's even more remarkable is that we were at home, where 70,000 of our fans, who clearly would be watching our game on TV if we were on the road, did not help our rating. Of the teams I just mentioned, only the Browns played at home. Even more notable is what a gorgeous day in Baltimore last Sunday was. Our TV numbers are always better when the weather is not very good.

Good for you, fans: those who blew the walls out with your enthusiasm at M&T, and those who stayed indoors and watched us on TV. And, by the way, we had big numbers for our radio broadcast on WBAL and 98 Rock, too.

Okay, let's do it. San Diego is good. Many reporters have picked them to go to the Super Bowl this season. We're pretty good, too. Can't wait for Sunday. I'll be the one trying to hear Ray and Co. call the Chargers' plays before the ball is snapped.

Talk with you next week.

Kevin

Kevin Byrne is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.

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