Flacco excels on the road

OWINGS MILLS -- Perhaps it's those plush luxury hotels the Baltimore Ravens frequent during road trips, or maybe it's the five-star restaurants or good room service. Or maybe rookie quarterback Joe Flacco just simply thrives under the collective pressure generated by hostile stadiums populated by unruly crowds and angry defenders intent on rattling his composure.

Regardless of the explanation, there's no arguing with Flacco's success on the road. He is the NFL's fourth-highest rated road quarterback with a sterling 91.1 rating.

"Joe is probably just a road guy," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "The beds are probably better on the road, I don't know. The bus ride might be a little better on the road than him driving his own car down to the stadium. I don't know what it is."

Flacco has completed 64.1 percent of his passes on the road for 1,542 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. At M&T Bank Stadium, the first-round draft pick from Delaware has completed 52.3 percent of his throws for four touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 60.6 rating.

Is Flacco following a different routine or taking on a different mentality for road games?

"No, not at all," Flacco said. "The only difference would be at home you've got to stay in a hotel and on the road you stay in a hotel, too. You've got to take a little plane trip in between, but it's all the same."

As the Ravens (9-5) prepare to play the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) Saturday night at Texas Stadium in a game with major playoff implications, Baltimore is hoping Flacco can continue this season-long trend.

Regardless of the why aspect of Flacco's contrasting performances on the road versus at home, the Ravens are simply enjoying what he's done and generally credit his road success to his poise and unflappable personality.

"I think if you learn about Joe that's just Joe's demeanor," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Joe is just cool, laid back. That's always Joe. When we go on the road, no matter how loud people yell or what circumstances come up, he has great composure to keep the team together, keep the offense together.

"Even on the defensive side, that's what you appreciate when you look out there and see this young quarterback out patrolling his troops. It's always exciting to see someone that young do it because you know the upside is so great. It's a great privilege to see Joe play football."

However, Flacco is coming off two rough games against top-notch defenses.

In a 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, Flacco completed just 11 of 28 passes for a season-worst 115 yards and a 22.2 quarterback rating with two interceptions and no touchdowns against the NFL's top-ranked defense.

In a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins the previous week, Flacco completed just 10 of 21 passes for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception against a talent-laden secondary.

Deciphering what has gone on with Flacco over the past two weeks may not be as simple as chalking it up to tough competition. Several of his passes have sailed recently as his mechanics don't seem as streamlined as before and he has been throwing off his back foot regularly.

"Defense can be a factor in that, but like any other position we always go back to fundamentals, techniques," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "He's had an outstanding week of practice. I don't necessarily have that answer, but usually anything is a collective effort.

"We haven't put our best foot forward these last two weeks, but I think we've had a heck of a week at practice. So, I think it's more fundamentals, technique."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh dismissed the notion that Flacco is simply wearing out after 14 games, including 13 straight weeks since a Week 2 bye caused by Hurricane Ike postponing a game against the Houston Texans.

He doesn't think Flacco is colliding with the so-called rookie wall.

"I don't even know what the rookie wall is," Harbaugh said. "Getting tired? Getting worn out? Losing your mental focus? I don't see those things in Joe. Our rookies have done a really good job of focusing on the task at hand. These opportunities are too precious, and the veteran players aren't about to let the rookies get tired and not concentrate in practice or in a meeting.

"Our rookies are quality, character people. They've got mental toughness, and they're not going to let the veterans down. They're doing everything they can to be a productive part of the team and Joe is no exception."

Flacco played in 15 games last season, but that was at the Division I-AA level where the defenders are nowhere near as big, fast and hard-hitting as the NFL variety.

"Rookie wall? I don't think so," Flacco said. "No, it really doesn't feel like we're in Week 15. The weeks just pile on top of each other and, before you know it, it's the end of the season and you're getting ready for the playoffs. So, I still feel like we're in the middle of the season and I'm ready to go."

Against the Cowboys, the Ravens' offensive line will be tested severely by a talented front seven that features Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware who leads the NFL with 19 sacks. The Cowboys had eight sacks last week against the New York Giant and have only allowed one touchdown in the past three games.

"We're going to go out there and try to put points on the board," Flacco said. "We're going to do that running the ball and throwing the ball. We feel about this game plan just the way we do about any other game plan. We feel confident, and we feel ready to go out there and execute it to our fullest and do our best."

Over the past five road games, the Ravens have averaged 29.8 points and 334.7 yards of total offense per contest. They have won four of those five games.

And the Ravens will definitely need Flacco to keep writing his history of strong road games and break out of a two-week slump.

"It's a collective effort, I think other guys have played well on the road as well," Cameron said. "We would like to think that's going to happen again. To know why, I don't know. But we're going to need him to play well this week no matter how he's played in the past."


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