The Ravens hope to rewrite their recent history on the road in December, starting with Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Baltimore's December road record is 1-6 over the past three seasons. Not coincidently, the Ravens have missed the playoffs the past three seasons.
The Ravens (6-5) can make or break their season with their road performance down the stretch with games left at Atlanta this Sunday, Kansas City on Dec. 9 and in Los Angeles versus the Chargers on Dec. 22
With quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards putting up a league-high 509 rushing yards the past two weeks, and with the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense, the Ravens believe they have the ingredients to travel well this December.
"We have a good run game and a defense, and that'll carry us," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "So hopefully, that'll be how we get it done."
Time of possession could be a key stat in Sunday's game. The Ravens want to keep Atlanta's potent offense off the field. The unit is driven by quarterback Matt Ryan, who leads the NFL in passing yards, and wide receiver Julio Jones, who leads in receiving yards.
Locked in a tight AFC battle to make the playoffs, the Ravens are currently the No. 6 seed in the conference. But winning on the road will be imperative. Losing all three road games would leave the Ravens no better than 8-8 this season, even if they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns at home. Eight wins probably won't be enough to make the playoffs. Even nine wins may not be enough.
The Ravens have already won at Pittsburgh and at Tennessee this season, and they are coming off two straight home wins. Smith believes the Ravens are trending in the right direction for a strong finish.
"Momentum is everything – getting the win last week, playing well [is] definitely going to help you a little bit going into this week," Smith said. "It doesn't win the game for you but it's definitely going to help you riding high with confidence. Going against a team like this, it's what you need."
Lamar Jackson's Rushing Attempts Are Monitored Closely
The Ravens don't want Lamar Jackson's rushing attempts to exceed a certain number in any game. What that number is, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg won't say. But Jackson clearly exceeded it during his first start against the Cincinnati Bengals, when he had had 27 rushing attempts.
"You shower and then you get the stats, and I said, 'Oh, jeez!' I was shocked!" Mornhinweg said. "Man, I'm going, 'Whoa, 27!' … I didn't sleep very well.
"There's a window of a number that I would prefer [not to divulge]. Now, there comes a time where [we'll do] whatever it takes to win the game."
Jackson had just 11 rushing attempts Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, which helped Mornhinweg sleep better. However, Jackson's ability to run is keeping the Ravens' opponents awake. Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn admits that preparing for Jackson isn't like preparing for most quarterbacks.
"Simulating that speed at practice, that's the most difficult part, because you could do it with a receiver for the run plays, but it's not as authentic, because you can't step back and rip the passes like normal," Quinn said during a conference call.
Utilizing Jackson's running ability without putting his health at unnecessary risk is one of the challenges of game-planning for Mornhinweg and the coaching staff. But as an offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, both Mornhinweg and Quarterbacks Coach James Urban worked with a mobile quarterback in Michael Vick. Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman was an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, coaching a mobile quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.
Mornhinweg believes those experiences are helpful coaching Jackson and get the most out of his skillset.
"A lot of us have had experience with unique types of quarterbacks, so yes, I think that pays off just a little bit," Mornhinweg said. "That's a good point, and I think that's real. At least, up to date, it looks like it's real."
Containing Falcons' Receivers Requires More Than Just Containing Julio Jones
Jones is clearly a special receiver, but Ryan has a host of capable targets that include wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, and tight end Austin Hooper. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale is ready for a heavyweight matchup.
Jones leads the NFL with 1,305 receiving yards. Ridley has 625 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, Sanu has 546 yards and Hooper has 476. That makes it hard to key in, and perhaps follow, just one receiver around the field.
"I think it's our strength against their strength," Martindale said. "We'll just see where it ends up. We're really excited about the challenge. I know that all three of those receivers that you were talking about have chances to be Pro Bowlers."
Asked what makes Jones so difficult to cover (84 catches, 1305 yards), Smith said Jones has physical gifts that can't be negated with technique.
"I think the fact that someone created him in a lab, maybe," Smith said. "No, I mean you have a guy who's 6-3, runs a 4.3, weighs 220 and can stop on a dime like that. He's a freak of nature, athletically. That's pretty much it; he's physically imposing."
The Ravens' red-zone defense and turnovers could be a key to Sunday’s game. They know Atlanta will move the football at times. But holding the Falcons to fields goals instead of touchdowns and making some plays of their own, will be crucial.
"Just like I've told our DBs, there's going to be some plays made," Martindale said. "It's just, how are we going to handle the series of events? I know right now what our mindset is."