Converting red-zone opportunity into touchdowns will be critical for the Ravens if they want to keep pace with the high-powered Indianapolis Colts offense this weekend.
Field goals are a nice consolation prize, but as a 17-15 loss to the Colts showed earlier this season, crossing the goal line is imperative.
In that Week 11 contest, the Ravens marched within Indianapolis' 20-yard line on four occasions, but they ended in only two field goals, a missed attempt and a devastating interception on Baltimore's final possession.
While the five field goals for kicker Billy Cundiff, who was playing in his first game as a Raven and tied Matt Stover's franchise mark for most field goals in a single game, were promising, a single touchdown would have led to a different outcome.
The Ravens know what they have to do Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, especially considering a Peyton Manning-led passing attack that has the ability to score in bunches.
"One thing we've done is that we've established that we're going to run the football when we want to run the football," said running back Ray Rice. "We'll pass when we want to pass, but it all starts up front. It's about execution, doing the little things that coaches always talk about.
"They're tougher on short yardage and goal-line stuff than in the open field, and you have to score seven against that team because if you give Peyton Manning any kind of chance, he's capable of lighting the scoreboard up."
The Ravens' performance in their previous matchup with Indianapolis was particularly discouraging. In the fourth quarter, Baltimore had first-and-goal from the Colts' 1-yard line, but couldn't convert on three separate runs.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was stopped on a dive up the middle on first down, Willis McGahee was stonewalled at the line of scrimmage on second, and Cundiff trotted out for a 20-yard field goal attempt when McGahee lost a yard on third down.
"Every week is going to be a challenge," center Matt Birk explained. "The Colts, they did a great job all year of keeping teams out of the end zone, and especially when we played them. So, obviously that'll be a challenge, and those guys will be tough to beat at home in the playoffs if we don't score seven instead of three."
The Ravens have since shaken off any residual effects from their missed opportunities.
Baltimore closed the regular season with two touchdowns and a missed field goal, which was affected by a bad snap, in a 21-13 win at Oakland.
Last week, the Ravens capitalized with two touchdowns and two field goals in a 33-14 dismantling of the AFC East champion New England Patriots.
On the season, the Ravens have been near the middle of the pack when it came to red-zone efficiency. Following the first Colts game, Baltimore was ranked 17th in the NFL with a 51.6 touchdown percentage within the 20. At the end of the year, that ranking climbed to 11th, even though the percentage only rose to 52.6 with 30 touchdowns in 57 tries.
"I think we did a great job last week," Flacco said. "We're off to a great start. We've done a pretty good job down the stretch. We have the confidence in our ability to do it and we think we can get it done."
Baltimore has done it in close quarters by pounding the football behind a jumbo package that features their regular set of starting offensive linemen coupled with 315-pound guard Chris Chester playing tight end. To add more bulk, the Ravens have also used 345-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as an extra blocker.
Birk isn't so sure that the Ravens will continue to insert the massive goal-line set, or even if they continue to run behind it and not throw a pass, but he can't deny that it has been effective.
"You know, like last week that was just the package we had in, because coach [Cam] Cameron, he saw something that he thought would work, and it worked well," stated Birk. "But, it's different every single week depending on who you're playing, [and] what you've done previous weeks."
Regardless of the red-zone offense's performance at New England, the Ravens believe they must continue improving in order to secure a second consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship.
"If you have a successful game and you score touchdowns in the red zone every time, it's not like, 'Oh, ok. We've got it fixed,'" Birk continued. "It's every week is a new challenge, every defense is a new challenge and obviously it's always – no matter who we're playing – it's always a point of emphasis."