Ravens' woes inside red zone an old problem

The Baltimore Sun

In an effort to boost his players' confidence in the red zone, coach Brian Billick recently showed film of other teams inside the 20-yard line.

He wanted to stress the point that the Ravens run the same plays as some of the most successful red zone teams. It's just that the Ravens haven't executed as well.

It always seems like a blocker misses an assignment on one play or a receiver runs the wrong depth on a route on another or the quarterback simply makes a bad throw.

While the Ravens might think they are close to solving the problem - and with their talent, they could be - their red zone troubles go beyond breakdowns of one season.

Over the past 4 1/2 seasons, the Ravens have had the worst red zone offense in the NFL, scoring 85 touchdowns in 205 trips inside their opponents' 20 (41.4 percent).

The Ravens have ranked in the bottom five in red zone efficiency in four of the past five years. This season, they have the third-worst offense inside the 20, scoring six touchdowns on 21 drives (28.6 percent).

The Ravens' biggest problem seems to be that they lack a personality in the red zone. If you look at the teams that have scored the most red zone touchdowns this season, they all have an identity.

The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts have quarterbacks who can hit their targets even when the window becomes smaller inside the 20. And the Dallas Cowboys muscle their way in by giving the ball to Marion Barber, one of the NFL's best red zone running backs.

Defenses don't have the same fear yet when they play against quarterback Steve McNair or running back Willis McGahee.

Like most of their problems this season, the Ravens can point to injuries as a major reason why they have recently struggled inside the 20. The starting offense - particularly the skill players - hasn't practiced together for a full week this season.

McNair has dealt with groin and back injuries. Receiver Mark Clayton has battled through ankle and toe injuries. And receiver Derrick Mason missed one week of practice because of illness.

That partly explains why the Ravens have scored just one touchdown in their past seven red zone trips, a drought that has surprisingly stretched over two wins.

But trading field goals for touchdowns will catch up to the Ravens, especially when they play the toughest part of their schedule in November and December.

When the offense gets healthy, the Ravens have the tools to be successful in the red zone. And there will be no more excuses for the Ravens.


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