Looking For Red-Zone Improvement Versus Steelers


The Ravens offense moved the ball. It got the big play.

But there was one problem Sunday against the Jets. It had trouble finding the end zone.

The Ravens were inside the Jets' 20-yard line on four straight drives in the first half. They got nine points out of it.

While the field goals were key in pulling away from the Jets, who were shut down by the Ravens defense, Baltimore wants to turn it into seven points more frequently.

Field goals weren't enough in the Ravens' trip to Pittsburgh earlier this year, and red-zone efficiency could be the difference between a win and loss this Thursday in what is almost always a close game between the rivals.

Eight of the last 10 Ravens-Steelers games have been decided by three points, including four straight. The Steelers beat Baltimore 19-16 in Week 7.

"We're working on the red zone really hard, and we want to get as many sevens down there as you can," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

"The first thing is not to give up those three, to protect the kicker to make the kick, and to get yourself to the point where you have a chance to kick the field goal and get three points – that's where it starts. From there, you want to build your way into seven."

The Ravens are tied for 20th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown efficiency this season. They've gotten in the end zone 51.4 percent of the time (18 touchdowns in 35 trips).

Quarterback Joe Flacco has a 77.0 quarterback rating in the red zone this season, ranked 39th in the league (out of 49 quarterbacks, including backups). His 12 red-zone touchdowns rank as the 11th most in the NFL, but he's also thrown two interceptions. Nobody has tossed three.

Here's how the four red-zone trips played out against the Jets:

Baltimore nearly had a touchdown to receiver Jacoby Jones on its first red-zone drive, but safety Ed Reed broke up the play with a rattling hit. Kicker Justin Tucker hit a 30-yard field goal.

The Ravens had a first down at the Jets' 10-yard line on their next drive, but a swing pass to running back Ray Rice went for a 3-yard loss and pressure from Jets lineman Muhammad Wilkerson forced him to throw it away on third down.

The defense set the Ravens offense up at the Jets' 18-yard line on the next drive, but Flacco and wide receiver Marlon Brown weren't on the same page. Flacco had Torrey Smith open for an easy 5-yard gain, but tried to hit Brown on a deeper out route. The pass went between both receivers and right to Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

"The one interception was really a route that wasn't run exactly right, so that was more of a miscommunication you'd say more than anything," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens got inside the red zone three times and once on the cusp of it in Pittsburgh in their first meeting in Week 7. They came away with 16 points from those three drives. So they got points, but one more touchdown would have provided a win.

Pressure from opponents in the red zone has been a consistent problem, and the Steelers love to bring the heat.

"When you get down and you get tight in there, they like to bring an all-out blitz," Flacco said. "That's just part of a lot of teams' packages, and it's up to us to block it up and run little picks here and get open quickly and do all the right things."

Baltimore's defense is playing well, which could carry the Ravens down the cold final stretch of the regular season. If the offense can capitalize on its scoring opportunities with touchdowns, it would go a long way.

"In previous weeks we were a pretty good red-zone team," tackle Michael Oher said. "We've just got to get back to the fundamentals and get going on offense. If we can get going on offense, it will be great for the entire team."

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