Unlike previous seasons, the Ravens have been proficient in striking it rich on big plays, recording seven of their 28 touchdowns from 20 yards or beyond.

That kind of production may be necessary when they visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Cleveland boasts one of the NFL's stingiest defenses inside the 20-yard line, ranking seventh after surrendering just 13 touchdowns on 32 trips (40.6 percent) to the red zone by opponents.

Conversely, the Ravens have struggled at times in the red zone, ranking 21st after scoring 17 touchdowns on 36 attempts (47.2 percent).

Fifteen teams are scoring touchdowns on at least 50 percent of their trips to the red zone. The problem for offenses is the dwindling amount of space that occurs when they drive deep into opponents' territory.

"Everything tightens down there," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "The defense can really just tighten everything up on you. It's almost easier to score from the 30 than it is at the 4-yard line just because everything comes so tight down in there and there's so little room for error and guys are only open for a quick second. It's a lot of those things. We have our challenges, and that's why we have our game plan. That's why every now and then, we take shots from a little bit farther out."

The defenses can also use the reduced tracts to their advantage.

"The defense becomes stronger in the red zone," tight end Ed Dickson said. "They've got less room to cover, they use the back of the end zone as another defender. So the offense has to play sound football in the red zone to score against a lot of defenses in this league."

The offense went 1-for-2 in a 16-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, getting an 8-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winner.

But the unit also failed to punch the ball in after running back Ray Rice gained 3 yards on first down to put the ball at the 1. Rice lost 4 yards on second down, and Flacco was stopped for no gain on third down.

Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens should've converted when they had the opportunity.

"I felt like we got down to the 1-yard line, and we should have put the ball in there," he said. "In my mind, that's on us, that was on coaching, that's on me. We could have done a better job of scheming up that run game down there and giving our guys a better chance — the run right before that gained 4 yards against that defense. So in my mind, we should have been 2-for-2. I think all our players and all our coaches agree with that, and we wouldn't necessarily be having the conversation. The next time down, in a critical situation, we get down to the 11-yard line and we run a route to perfection. Joe makes a great throw. That's how you score down there most of the time. But it goes hand-in-hand with the run game and continuing to develop what we're doing."

Dickson said the offense will have to be more effective against the Browns.

"We just have to do the things that we do well," he said. "When we get down there, we've got to get touchdowns instead of field goals. But if they hold us to field goals, that's still a positive. You're getting points on the board. The key is, we can't go backwards. We can't have false starts and self-inflicted wounds. We're going to attack their strengths. We're going to try to be more physical than them, and we're going to execute in the passing game if we get a chance."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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