The Ravens have scored touchdowns on just 25 percent of their red-zone opportunities over the past three games. That’s a problem they need to fix heading into Sunday’s playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Baltimore has left points on the field with increasing regularity. Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, the Ravens went 0-for-3 in the red zone. It’s why the Chargers, despite Baltimore’s defensive dominance, still had a chance to win at the end of the game.
In Week 17 against the Browns, the Ravens led, 20-7, but came away empty just before halftime after having first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
Baltimore went with an unorthodox play on first down, handing the ball to tight end Maxx Williams,[comma] who was stopped for no gain. Then, after Lamar Jackson was stopped just short of the goal line on second down, Jackson lost a fumble on third down as he tried to reach the ball over the goal line and had it knocked away.
Ultimately, the Ravens hung on for a 26-24 victory. But throwing away points in the playoffs can mean the difference between advancing or packing your bags.
Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said red-zone efficiency has been a point of emphasis this week.
“We have to do better, period. I have to do better,” Mornhinweg said. “We’ve put the ball on the ground a few times down the stretch here and have overcome that, but then all of the sudden, we have the long-yardage issue in the red zone. [It’s] very difficult to overcome those in the red zone.”
Baltimore’s lone touchdown from the red zone Sunday came on an 8-yard run by Jackson, who made a dazzling jump-cut move before darting into the end zone. However, Baltimore finished 20th in the NFL in red zone efficiency this season, despite starting the season going a record 13-for-13.
The Ravens have a great field goal kicker in Justin Tucker, who was 4-for-4 on field goals against Cleveland. However, the goal during the playoffs will be to end more drives with touchdowns, not field goals.
Robert Griffin III Says Jackson Can Handle His First Playoff Start as Rookie
Since the day Jackson arrived in Baltimore, teammates and coaches have raved about his maturity. Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III has been down the road that Jackson is walking.
Griffin started a playoff game in 2012 as a rookie quarterback with the Washington Redskins. Though Jackson will become the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game, Griffin expects Jackson to be as calm as he was during the regular season, when he led Baltimore to a 6-1 record as a starter.
“The way he’s going to approach it, it’s just going to be like any other game he’s played so far,” Griffin said. “We think we’ve been playing playoff football for the last seven or eight weeks, because we’ve had to. It’s the only reason we won the division. Every game mattered. I think this game will be no different for us, or for him.”
There has been speculation that the Chargers may be better prepared for Jackson’s running ability, having just faced him in Week 16. However, Griffin isn’t sure that’s true.
“I don’t know if we can put Lamar in this rare air, but when Michael Jordan was playing, everyone knew he was going to shoot the fadeaway, but they still had to stop it,” Griffin said. “Even if you know it’s coming, you still have to tackle, you still have to make plays on the field.”
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale Flattered by Head Coach Talk, But Focused on Game
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale oversaw the league’s No. 1-ranked defense this season, which can be a stepping stone toward becoming a head coach. Not only is Martindale a top coordinator; he is working with one of the league’s top coaches, Head Coach John Harbaugh, in one of the league’s most stable organizations.
However, instead of checking his cell phone every five minutes, Martindale is doing what he does every game week – preparing the Ravens’ defense to give its best performance. Would Martindale love to interview as a head coach, with eight teams looking for one? Yes. Is he worried about it? No.
“I think all of that is flattering – I really do,” Martindale said. “It’s really ‘we,’ with that whole defensive staff. Anybody [who’s] talking about me, is talking about we and that whole defensive staff room. Yes, of course you do. If you’re worth a salt as an assistant, I think everyone wants to be a head coach. It’s just something that if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I told John this the other day when we were sitting there talking. I said, ‘I’m 55. However long you want to go, I’d love to just be the D-coordinator here and do it with you.’ That’s how I feel.”
Better Communication in the Secondary a Priority After Browns Breakdowns
There were some miscommunications in the Ravens’ secondary in Week 17 that led to big plays and scratching of heads.
Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman got wide open for a 28-yard touchdown catch. Jarvis Landry broke wide open in the second quarter, but the pass from Baker Mayfield deflected off Landry’s helmet, or it could have been another touchdown. Then, on a trick play, Landry got wide open again in the third quarter and this time scored a 48-yard touchdown.
After the game, Perriman said the Browns saw on film that Baltimore was susceptible up the seams. Rest assured, those situations have been dissected by Ravens coaches and players, who don’t expect a repeat against the Chargers.
“I think it was uncharacteristic,” Martindale said. “It’s like guys just started popping up out of the ground wide open. I think that was uncharacteristic of how we played. Like I said, it’s the power of ‘we.’ We all take responsibility for it, and we’re in the process of fixing what happened, and we’ll move on.”
Martindale said crowd noise may have contributed to some of the communication issues. However, he still wants M&T Bank Stadium to rock on Sunday.
“Don’t worry – I’m not ever saying be quiet,” Martindale said. “I’m never going to say that because it affects the offense a lot more than it affects the defense. That’s why I loved it. The whole city of Baltimore seemed like they were screaming, and from what I hear from phone calls and texts, they were – even the ones that weren’t there in the stadium.”