Red zone is a dead zone

The Baltimore Sun

Ten plays in the red zone kept the Ravens out of a first-place tie in the AFC North yesterday. Ten plays in the red zone let the Pittsburgh Steelers off the hook one more time this season.

Best-laid plans?

The Ravens' three-tackle, unbalanced line worked as well as it could have expected. It kept Pittsburgh's edge pass rush off quarterback Joe Flacco. And Le'Ron McClain's power running was effective (23 carries, 87 yards) against the best run defense in the NFL.

But when the Ravens needed to make a play in the red zone, they came up empty three times. In the end, that sealed their agonizing 13-9 loss to the Steelers as much as Pittsburgh's desperation 92-yard drive at the end.

Three times the Ravens pounded the ball inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line, and each time they came away with field goals, not touchdowns.

"I think they played what we expected them to play," Flacco said after a tough 11-for-28 performance with a 22.2 passer rating. "We just felt like we could get them biting up on the run a little bit and they were playing soft.

"Usually you're able to get those [defensive] guys [to come] up in the box with run fakes and you see if you can hit a pass over their head. They did a good job of sitting back, being patient and breaking on the ball when we threw it short."

The Steelers didn't bite, and the Ravens didn't get to the end zone, even though they had the ball at the 10 twice and at the 8 once.

Flacco was 2-for-6 for 12 yards in the red zone, once hitting the crossbar on a pass intended for tight end Todd Heap. McClain dropped a pass, as well.

Running the ball wasn't any more effective. The other four red-zone plays were runs that netted 12 yards, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron let three different runners take a shot: Willis McGahee (one carry, 4 yards), Lorenzo Neal (one carry, 2 yards) and McClain (two carries, 6 yards).

"It's all about execution when you're inside the red zone," McClain said. "It's just little stuff. They weren't stopping us; we were stopping ourselves."

With Adam Terry lining up as a tight end outside Willie Anderson and Jared Gaither, the Ravens were able to keep nemesis James Harrison from making big plays. When Terry lined up on the left side, he went after Harrison, and when he lined up on the right, he went after LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh's other outside rush threat.

"My job was to go out there and be physical on" Harrison, Terry said. "How effective it was, I'll have to look on film."

Harrison had five tackles but no sacks or quarterback hurries. Woodley had two tackles and one hurry.

"It's tough to lose any game," Gaither said. "We controlled our destiny [before the loss]. The season isn't over, but it's a tough loss at home. We let them get by at their place, and we let them get by here. We've got to tighten the screws up and get ready for next week."

The Ravens will try to preserve a shot at a wild-card berth Saturday night in Irving, Texas, against the Dallas Cowboys, who are no less desperate.

"I'm ready to take it out of every team we play from now on," McClain said.

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