OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After playing three straight road games, the Baltimore Ravens will return to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday for a contest in which home-field advantage could prove especially significant.
NFL teams enjoy playing on their home turf because players remain in comfortable surroundings and fans offer a jolt of energy. And beyond that, a rambunctious crowd can provide a tangible boost by whooping and hollering when an opposing team is on offense, forcing quarterbacks to use hand signals or silent cadences to call for the ball.
That means defenses don’t have to worry as much about hard counts, and they can better anticipate when the ball is snapped.
Such a factor might be important for the Ravens this week as they prepare to face quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints’ top-ranked offense. Brees’ abilities to keep defenses off balance with a snap count and diagnose coverages are legendary. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s defense often pushes eight men up near the line of scrimmage to disguise blitzes and coverages.
The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring and total defense, and they’re among the league’s best at keeping opposing quarterbacks confused before the snap, Saints coach Sean Payton said.
If M&T Bank Stadium fans are making noise when Brees is behind center Sunday, it’ll be tougher for the 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback to figure out what the defense is going to do.
“What you see is great disguise from [Ravens safeties] [Eric] Weddle and [Tony] Jefferson, and then especially when you’re at home, you can hold those looks longer with the silent snap count,” Payton said. “On the road, maybe you can’t hold them as long.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley didn’t dispute Payton’s comments. Yes, both said, a noisy fan base can aid Baltimore in its quest to slow Brees.
But they’re also skeptical that anything can throw a Hall of Fame quarterback out of his rhythm. Brees, after all, has completed better than 77 percent of his passes this season, while throwing 11 touchdown passes to zero interceptions.
“It does” help to play at home, Harbaugh said, “but they do it with a silent count, so they’ll do it with a silent cadence. They do a good job of that. [Drew Brees] does a great job of covering up the snap count and trying not to let you time up your rush. That’s what a veteran quarterback is so good at.”
Added Mosley: “You can kind of get a better feel for it when you’re playing at home, and sometimes we can disguise things longer. But from what we’ve seen on film, they actually like to get on the ball quick and go. So we have to make sure we’ll be ready to go.”
In other words, the Ravens believe the Saints’ up-tempo offense and Brees’ experience will help New Orleans cope with a loud, unfamiliar stadium.
Still, the mental matchup of Brees and Payton against the Ravens’ defensive front could go a long way toward deciding the outcome of this Week 7 heavyweight bout. And screaming fans could make a difference — even if it’s a small one.
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