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Eisenberg: An Under-the-Radar, But Important, Item on Ravens' Fix-It List


After falling short of the playoffs in 2016, the Ravens drew up a list of problems that needed to be addressed in 2017.

Most items on the list have been hot conversation topics for months. The Ravens need to run the ball better and more often. Pressure opposing quarterbacks more effectively. Tighten up their secondary. Add a playmaker or two.

That fix-it list has guided the team's maneuverings during a busy offseason. It's why the Ravens brought in several new offensive coaches, altered their blocking schemes, signed Jeremy Maclin and went heavy on defense in free agency and the draft.

But another item on the Ravens' fix-it list has received no mention whatsoever, at least not in the public conversation. It's on the list, no doubt. It just hasn't been talked about.

The Ravens need to play better on the road.

To say that's been a problem is an understatement. The Ravens won just two of eight games away from M&T Bank Stadium last season. They also went 2-6 the year before.

Since they won Super Bowl 47, they're 10-22 on the road -- quite a contrast from the first five years of Head Coach John Harbaugh's tenure, when they went 21-19 away from M&T Bank Stadium.

Admittedly, the biggest reason they haven't fared well lately is they haven't been as good, period. Their road record is the byproduct of that, not a cause.

But in vowing to get back to their version of the basics with a stronger defense and better running game, the Ravens definitely, by design, are seeking to adopt a playing style that travels better.

How do you take a home crowd out of the game? Controlling the ball and discouraging the home offense are good places to start.

I'm guessing the Ravens' decision to fortify their 2017 defense originated with two road losses last year. Today, the accepted narrative is 2016 was a mostly forgettable season, but how different would it look in hindsight if the defense had protected late leads against the New York Giants on Oct. 23 and Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 25?

Now the Ravens are trying to field a defense capable of holding up in such situations, even on the road – especially on the road.

As for the desire to run the ball better, stats from the past two seasons clearly illustrate that the Ravens really struggle on the road when they lean too heavily on their passing game.

In 2015 and 2016, the Ravens were 5-5 at home but just 2-10 on the road when attempting at least 40 passes.

If that isn't an inducement to start running the ball more, especially on the road, what is?

In an interview with WBAL's Gerry Sandusky before last week's preseason game in Miami, Harbaugh made it clear that road performances are on the organization's fix-it list. Asked what advice he could offer young players who might be traveling for the first time in the NFL, Harbaugh pointed out that the Ravens have struggled on the road and need to "figure out" what works.

Obviously, you can't say they've found a solution just because they hammered the Dolphins. It was a preseason game, heavily populated by backups and fringe players. A clock-eating running game didn't materialize behind a patchwork offensive line. The starting defense didn't allow a point, but it only played three series.

Sure, it's always preferable to win big, but remember, the Ravens won both road preseason games a year ago, and that didn't translate into regular season success.

Still, when the starting defense was on the field in Miami, you could see the outline of a more formidable road blueprint. Miami's running game went nowhere. The Dolphins' quarterbacks were pressured.

Of course, the challenge will intensify when the regular season arrives. There will be tough times, obstacles, setbacks. Such is life on the road in the NFL, where it's always hard to win, no matter the opponent.

My two cents, a .500 road record in 2017 might get the Ravens where they want to go. They're 21-11 at M&T Bank Stadium since the Super Bowl, so they're still dominating at home. The road is where there's room for improvement. No one is talking about it, but the Ravens are aware of the issue. Quite aware.

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