For parts of this season, the red zone has been more like the no-fly zone for the Ravens’ offense.
Baltimore is tied for 23rd in the NFL in red zone efficiency, turning only 12 of their 28 trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line (42.9 percent) into touchdowns.
The Ravens’ red zone issues reached a new low in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, when they got inside the Miami 20 on seven occasions, and came away with one just touchdown.
So, why is an offense that has no trouble getting into the red zone - they’ve made 28 trips into that territory this season - having trouble coming away with seven points on those trips?
“I think it’s just execution,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We can do a better job. You know, don’t have penalties down there. We want to complete passes. We had a couple opportunities to complete some balls that would have been scores. We could have run the ball better. Miami did a nice job.”
The Dolphins have the league’s second-best red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just eight of 25 possessions inside their own 20, so the Ravens weren’t facing a bunch of cupcakes on Sunday.
But they did make mistakes which pushed them back and forced kicker Billy Cundiff to trot onto the field and try a field goal. Penalties, sacks, and an inability to move the chains on third-and-short situations led to just one truly successful red zone trip on the afternoon.
“They get paid to stop us and we get paid to score,” said wide receiver Derrick Mason, who had the Ravens’ lone red zone TD on Sunday. “So sometimes, they win, sometimes we win. But, I think if we do not do the small things, the little mistakes, then we will score more often than not.
“I think often times, we’ve gotten down there and we’ve done something to kind of push ourselves back out of the red zone, so in the second half of the season, we have to start to minimize the penalties and minimize some of the mistakes we have down in the red zone.”
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin said that while the Ravens only came away with one touchdown on Sunday, there were times when the situation dictated that all they really needed was a field goal.
Instead of forcing something and risking turning the ball over, Boldin says that field goals can sometimes get the job done.
“There’s certain things that come to play in the red zone,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “We felt like at certain points of the game we had the game under control. There’s certain times where you just want to preserve a field goal and that’s what we did. You have to be smart.”
But for every time that the Ravens played it safe and opted to simply kick a field goal to go up by 16 points (like they did late in the fourth quarter), they also had a possession where they failed to turn a great opportunity deep in Miami territory into seven points.
The possession where Lardarius Webb returned an interception to the Dolphins’ four-yard line comes to mind. After Webb’s return set the offense up in great shape, Joe Flacco got sacked twice and a delay of game penalty forced a Cundiff field goal try. The Ravens’ kicker never even got his foot on the ball because of a Sam Koch botched snap, and Baltimore came away with nothing.
Running back Ray Rice referred to playing in the red zone as “playing arena football” because there are so many players running around in such a condensed area, and it’s definitely not an easy task to come away with touchdowns most of the time.
But the Ravens know they need to be better in that area if they’re going to be successful in the long run this season.
“We understand that we’re going to get down there a lot as a team,” Mason said. “What we have to start doing now is capitalizing, and in order to capitalize, we have to make sure that we don’t have to do anything to shoot ourselves in the foot.”