Ravens hope home-field advantage holds vs Texans

The Baltimore Ravens were perfect at home during the regular

season and a .500 team on the road, which explains why they were so

desperate to host at least one playoff game this month.

There are many theories as to why the Ravens are so much better

at home. Familiarity with their surroundings? Check. The noise

generated by their 71,000 supportive fans? Absolutely. The Sportexe

synthetic turf at M&T Bank Stadium?

Say what?

According to Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team faces

Baltimore on Sunday in the second round of the AFC playoffs, the

Ravens will have the advantage of playing before a boisterous home

crowd and on a field that’s seemingly custom-made for Pro Bowl

running back Ray Rice.

”First off, the noise obviously is tough. But they get even

better on that turf,” Kubiak said. ”To me, they get even quicker

coming off the edges and setting the edges and what they do, so

that makes them even more difficult. I think Ray, as great a player

as he is, he even gets a step better on that turf running the

ball.”

Kubiak speaks from experience. He watched Rice run for 101 yards

in October, helping Baltimore roll to a 29-14 home win over the

Texans.

But while Rice has proven to be effective at home or on the

road, on grass or on artificial turf, the Ravens (12-4) are

unquestionably more dominant in Baltimore. And that is one big

reason why the Ravens believe this playoff run will be more

successful than the three that preceded it.

Baltimore is the only NFL team to reach the playoffs in each of

the last four seasons. In the previous three, however, the Ravens

advanced as a wild-card and did not get to play at home. They won a

game in each postseason appearance, but on every occasion the

strain of repeatedly playing on the road proved too difficult to

overcome.

Now, coming off a bye and playing in a venue where they went 8-0

during the regular season, the AFC North champions are confident

that home-field advantage will be a big factor in their bid to

defeat the Texans (11-6) and earn a berth in the conference title

game.

”I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how good you are, it’s

hard to win on the road,” Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis

said. ”For us to work as hard as we did, get 12 wins, do the

things we were supposed to do, and now get this home playoff game,

we have positioned ourselves to be in the right place. Now we have

to go finish it.”

This will be the Ravens’ first home playoff game since 2006 and

the first for Rice, now in his fourth NFL season.

”I’d like to say, first off, it’s a dream come true,” Rice

said. ”I played every playoff game that there was since I’ve been

a rookie, and they’ve all been on the road. It’s very tough.

Playing on the road is tough, no matter how you want to slice that.

Trust me, it’s a lot different than playing at home. So, a home

playoff game definitely plays big on our behalf.”

The Texans know the positives of playing at home after

dismissing Cincinnati 31-10 last week at Reliant Stadium. On

Sunday, rookie quarterback T.J. Yates must try to communicate with

his offense while virtually every fan in the house is screaming

`Defense!’ or something far more obscene.

”They were pretty loud when we were there earlier in the year,

so one can only imagine it will be just as loud if not louder,”

Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ”Our guys just

have to focus on the snap count. We can’t have any pre-snap

penalties.”

For the Texans to be successful on offense, two things have to

happen: They can’t jump offside and need to get their running game

going so Yates isn’t pressed into an obvious passing situation on

third down.

”The crowd really gets behind them,” offensive tackle Duane

Brown said. ”We played them in the regular season, and I’m sure

it’s going to be multiplied times 10, 20 now that it’s the

playoffs. We just have to stay poised, communicate as much as

possible and be on the same page up front. And just stay on track

and stay ahead of the chains. Once you get into those

third-and-long situations, that’s when they can pin their ears back

and really try to get after you.”

Beating the Ravens on the road in the postseason is not as

difficult a task as it might seem. Baltimore lost in 2006 to the

Indianapolis Colts and also fell at home against Tennessee in 2004.

The only time the Ravens won a home playoff game was in 2000, when

they launched their run to a Super Bowl victory with a 21-3 bashing

of Denver.

Winning at home is a lot easier when you’ve got a host of

talented players on the roster.

”Whether you play at home or on the road, you want to put a

good team out there that plays good football,” Ravens coach John

Harbaugh said. ”That’s part of it. And the other part of it is our

fans. Our fans are fantastic. It’s very loud. Our fans are very

passionate. You don’t see very many opposing colors in our stadium,

ever. That’s something that we appreciate as an organization and as

players and coaches.”