There's no red carpet to end zone for Ravens

Team hopes to reverse trend inside 20-yard line against Giants on Sunday

December 10, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The red zone is the dreaded zone for the Ravens.

It's where promising drives end and the questions begin.

While their play-calling inside the 20-yard line has been criticized for being too safe, the Ravens prefer to call it smart. What can't be debated are the results: The Ravens are the only team in the NFL this season to produce more field goals (13) than touchdowns (12) in the red zone.

The inability to finish off drives has been magnified in the current two-game skid, in which the Ravens have failed to score a touchdown in four of their five trips inside the 20.

"You always want to be that offense that carries a team," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "That's not the way it's been around here but I see it changing. I see [quarterback Kyle] Boller getting better and better. But it's not going to change if we keep scoring field goals. That's been winning but that also put us in a bad situation as we've seen."

Relying too heavily on field goals and defense might have been the difference in the Ravens' 27-26 loss to Cincinnati five days ago. If they would have come away with touchdowns instead of settling for field goals on their last two drives, they perhaps could have won that game and controlled their playoff fate.

But unlike the much-publicized defensive breakdowns Sunday, their struggles in the red zone have become tradition. Since coach Brian Billick took over the Ravens in 1999, the Ravens have never finished better than 21st in red-zone efficiency, ranking 24th in the 32-team league this season.

There won't be a major change in their plan of attack anytime soon, judging by Billick's comments yesterday.

Based on the fact that the Ravens have scored points on 25 of their 27 red-zone possessions (12 touchdowns, 13 field goals and no turnovers), he seemed content with how the Ravens have fared inside the 20 and said his offense is doing its part.

"One of the major determinants for success is to come away with points when you're in the red zone," coach Brian Billick said. "That's a function of [kicker] Matt Stover. That's a function of not making mistakes that will take yourself out of field-goal range. But yes, you'd like to have touchdowns."

But touchdowns have been elusive, with many possessions falling just short of the end zone. Seven drives have stalled inside the 7-yard line this season, including three the past two weeks.

In those losses to New England and Cincinnati, the Ravens have thrown the ball on seven of 12 plays in the red zone - excluding three spikes to stop the clock - but have taken just two shots to the end zone.

Equally as cautious was the Ravens' play-calling in the fourth quarter Sunday. Rather than trying to convert a third-and-nine by passing, the Ravens opted to run a draw to set up a field goal.

"I was probably too conservative on that one," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We probably could have taken a chance there because Kyle has gotten so much better at protecting the ball."

In fact, Boller has excelled in the red zone more than anywhere else on the field. His 97.3 quarterback rating there is 10th in the NFL.

"Once we get into that rhythm down in the red zone where we know we can score, it's going to be great," Boller said. "It's going to come. You've just got to be patient."

Billick has denied all week that his offense has taken a conservative approach. Asked again about the team's decision-making, he offered a shrug.

"I look at it only with mild amusement that going for it on [the 1-yard line and getting stopped] against New York got [me] ripped on a regular basis and not going for it [on the 2-yard line] against Cincinnati got [me] ripped," Billick said. "I wish I knew ahead of time which way the perspective was. Or does it underline? If it works, fine; if it doesn't, you're an idiot."

The solution, although only temporary, might come Sunday against the New York Giants, the NFL's worst red-zone defense.

When backed inside their 20, the Giants have given up 25 touchdowns on 32 series, an astonishing 78 percent of the time.

But Boller said converting in the red zone has more to do with the Ravens than their opponents.

"I think a lot of it is believing that you won't leave with just three points," Boller said. "It's having that confidence and attitude that we're going to get seven points because we know we can."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: New York Giants (5-7) vs. Ravens (7-5)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 10

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.