After watching the first 10 or so days of training camp, you can usually start to pick up on trends.
About a week and a half into this year’s camp, I thought I noticed the Ravens spending more practice time working on red zone drills than in previous years. So, I approached head coach John Harbaugh and asked him if my eyes were deceiving me.
“Nope,” Harbaugh said.
OK, so how much more time was being utilized on that aspect of the game than in Harbaugh’s first two seasons in Baltimore?
“A lot more,” Harbaugh responded.
As the league becomes increasingly driven by offense, the Ravens are taking strides to keep up.
Both red zone performance and the two-minute drill have been major points of emphasis for the Ravens this training camp. Entire portions of practice are dedicated strictly to red zone work, giving quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense plenty of opportunities to fine-tune their rhythm and play-calling inside the 20-yard-line.
“That’s when you win games,” Harbaugh said. “That’s where points are scored or not scored and when it comes down to two-minute, that’s when you either win or lose the game. So we put a big emphasis on that this year.”
Defensively, the Ravens were one of the league’s top teams in the red zone last year, only allowing a touchdown 42 percent of the time that an opponent got inside the Baltimore 20-yard-line (43 possessions, 18 TDs).
Offensively, however, there is some work to be done in that aspect.
The Ravens were 11th-best in the NFL in red zone efficiency last year, reaching the end zone 53 percent of the time they got into scoring territory. Not great, but not terrible.
But when you factor in field goals and look at total scoring in the red zone, those numbers get less impressive.
Flacco and company only put points on the board 77 percent of the time that they broke into the opponent’s 20 last season (57 possessions, 44 scores). That was the sixth-worst red zone scoring percentage in the league.
Hence, the extra red zone work this training camp.
“The coaches are making it [a focus],” Flacco says. “It’s an important part of the field. You get down there, you’ve got to be successful and put points on the board. We want touchdowns. I think obviously we’ve got to come away with a field goal at worst, but we want touchdowns, and the only way to get better at scoring touchdowns in there is practicing it.”
Flacco has made countless strides in his short time in the league, going from a quiet rookie who was asked to manage the offense, to a confident third-year pro who some believe can eclipse 4,000 yards passing this season.
As the quarterback, the bulk of the red zone responsibilities fall on Flacco. That’s the nature of the gig. But Harbaugh cautions not to single out Flacco as the only guy who needs to make improvements in that part of the field.
“Definitely Joe, but everybody else too,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not just going to put it on Joe. We all need to get better in the red zone. Coaches, players, everybody, because that is the next step. You score touchdowns in the red zone and you stop touchdowns in the red zone, right? You win games there.
“So that’s the next step for all of us. That’s more fair. And Joe’s part of that, no doubt.”
Things should be easier on Flacco in the red zone this year. He now has a big, physical receiver who can work over the middle of the field in Anquan Boldin, and two tall, athletic young tight ends who can compliment Todd Heap in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
The weapons will help, and the extra practice time will as well.
Flacco says the additional red zone reps have him feeling a little more confident already. Now, he and the rest of his offensive teammates need to carry that confidence into the season.
“I think things happen a little quicker down there, so you’ve got to be aggressive,” Flacco says. “You’ve got to be quick with everything you’re doing. But at the same time, you’ve got to be smart. Know when to drop the ball down, know when to throw it away.
“I think we’re getting there. I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”