The Pope of college football, the legendary Beano Cook, loves to talk about how difficult it is for collegiate teams to win on the road.
Well, if it's pretty difficult to win on the road in division I college football, where there is often-times a huge-disparity in talent, imagine how hard it is for teams in the NFL--where there is a much greater concentration of top end talent--to play well away from home.
As the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers begin their quest for a 7th Lombardi trophy today in the Mile High City against Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, there is great concern in Steeler Nation with how poorly the team performed on the road in 2011.
Well, from where I'm sitting, "poor" is a pretty relative word. The Steelers were 5-3 away from Heinz Field, and that normally is good enough for a Super Bowl contender, because, generally, those teams are pretty dominant at home. The 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers were no exception, going 7-1 in-front of the home folks. The team's average margin of victory at Heinz Field was 25.71, and the defense was downright stingy, posting two shutouts, and only allowing 10 points per game.
On the road, the team struggled a bit on offense, averaging 15.6 points per game. And on defense, the Steelers gave up just over a touchdown more per game than they did at home. Those two factors added up to many close road games, and the Steelers average margin of victory away from home in 2011 was 8 points.
It should be no surprise that the Steelers struggled a little more on the road. Most teams, even the good ones, aren't as dominant or efficient away from home.
Of the 12 teams who entered the postseason field, six had records of 12-4 or better, and the average road record for those teams in 2011 was 5.5-2.5. In other words, the Steelers were on par with most high-end playoff teams in-terms of their road performance.
The Pittsburgh Steelers played seven games against playoff teams in 2011--more than any other team in the postseason--and four of those games were away from home.
Yes, the Steelers were only 1-3 in those games, but while Pittsburgh was losing to playoff teams on the road, the Ravens were losing to the likes of the Jaguars and Seahawks, and finished 4-4 away from home.
The Saints were dominant at home in 2011, going 8-0. But away from home, they were a little more ordinary, posting a 5-3 mark, and losing games to the Rams and Buccaneers.
No, the Pittsburgh Steelers weren't dominant on the road in 2011, but they found a way to win the kind of games that other playoff teams could not. People complained about the ugliness of their, 13-9, victory in Kansas City on a Sunday Night, but a couple of weeks later, the Chiefs ended the Packers 19-game winning streak with a win at Arrowhead.
There's obviously many factors at play when teams go on the road, like crowd noise and weather conditions. And, you can't discount the human factor. Where are you more comfortable? At home and resting in your own bed, or out on the road, in some small hotel room off of the Interstate? There's a reason why teams practice and prepare differently for road games; it's the same reason why most home teams are automatically given at least three points in Vegas.
It's the same reason why the Saints avereraged 14 points more per game at home, and the Packers average margin of victory was 10 points less away from Lambeau.
It's just plain harder to look as good on the road.
Of course, it's going to be a challenge for the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers to win three-straight road games. It was also a challenge for the 2010 Green Bay Packers, who entered the playoffs as the 6th seed in the NFC. A year ago at this time, I'm pretty sure that most Packers fans weren't feeling too confident about their team's chances in the playoffs, not after watching them go 3-5 away from Lambeau Field. But, as it turned out, the Packers road struggles during the regular season didn't carry over, and Green Bay won three straight road games and made it to Super Bowl XLV.
Playoff football, especially in enemy territory, is all about finding a way to win, no matter what. The Steelers haven't looked very stylish away from home this year, but if they can find a way to post three more "ugly" road wins, I don't think many Steeler fans will mind.