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Ravens Red-Zone Offense Should Be More Efficient


The Ravens have a Pro Bowl kicker in Justin Tucker, but they'd like to send him out for extra points instead of field goals.

Trouble notching touchdowns from prime scoring range hurt the offense last year.

Baltimore had the second-worst red-zone touchdown scoring efficiency in the NFL. Once the Ravens got inside the opponent's 20-yard line, they punched it in the end zone 46.2 percent of the time. Jacksonville (43.9 percent) was the only team below and Denver (76.1 percent) was atop the league.

The Ravens are confident this year will be a different story, however.

"It better be [improved] if we're going to win some football games," quarterback Joe Flacco said.

"We have good players. We have a good idea of what we're doing. We just have to go out there and execute, and we're doing that right now. So, we can expect to go out there in a game and do the exact same."

The Ravens have reached the red zone five times this preseason. They've scored touchdowns on four of the five.

Against San Francisco, running back Bernard Pierce bulled into the end zone for a 2-yard score, then rookie wide receiver Jeremy Butler caught a 7-yard pass. In Dallas, Flacco hit wide receiver Torrey Smith with a 19-yard pass and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro scored on a 3-yard run.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said he's seen progress with his red-zone offense.

"Red zone has been good in games; it's been good in practice," he said. "Every single day we're working on red zone, and hopefully that'll pay off, because it's the most important part of the field."

The Ravens have worked on red-zone drills every day in practice for the past three years. That's nothing new.

What should help Baltimore be better in that area of the field is three primary factors: a new scheme, better short-and-intermediate receiving options and a stronger running attack.

Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's quick, West Coast passing scheme fits the red zone well. Flacco is expected to make quick drops and be decisive in his reads, completing shorter passes before pressure can reach him.

"Overall, we probably let teams come after us a little bit too much and didn't make the plays when they were presented to us," Flacco said. "We're doing a good job getting the ball out, getting it where it's supposed to be, winning one-on-one coverage. Those are the key things down there – quick wins and getting the ball out of your hands and just keep going forward."

The Ravens' improved running game, which has averaged a league-leading 194 rushing yards per game thus far, will also help get the ball in the end zone. Baltimore had just seven red-[hyphen]zone rushing touchdowns last year, tied for the fourth-fewest in the league.

Now they have a bigger offensive line with Kelechi Osemele stepping in for A.Q. Shipley and center Jeremy Zuttah replacing Gino Gradkowski. They can move more bodies in the jam-packed short-yardage situations. Baltimore also has a bigger-bodied running back in the stables with 6-foot, 226-pound rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro.

It's often difficult to throw in the red zone, especially as the offense gets closer to the end zone, because the field shortens. Defenders have the advantage of not having to be worried about getting burnt deep, as there's less field for them to cover.

"We have to run the ball well in the red zone to be effective," Kubiak said.

The Ravens' offensive linemen are already licking their chops at the possibility of going at opponents.

"Obviously, my preference is to run the ball in the red zone, but whatever we do, we'll get it done," guard Kelechi Osemele said.

"I feel like we've been physical all camp, so we'll be physical in the red zone. I really feel confident in Joe's arm, and our receivers have really stepped up. Steve Smith has been making plays all training camp. So, I think all that combined, we should be better this year."

Flacco's arsenal is drastically improved, and it should be particularly better in the tight red-zone spaces. Smith is adept at working in the slot and making difficult catches in traffic. He's got the physicality and grit to make plays.

Flacco will also have a better collection of tight ends with Dennis Pitta returned from his hip injury that kept him out of 12 games last year, veteran Owen Daniels and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who provides a lot of flexibility as a pass catcher.

Flacco has done a good job of not turning the ball over in the red zone. Kubiak stressed that and the need to not commit penalties in that area on Wednesday.

"Protecting the ball, running the ball, not hurting yourself offensively is the key to being good in the red zone," he said.

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