So Far, Ravens Better Off Red

Heap, Mcgahee Help Offense Show Progress Inside 20-yard Line

August 31, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The Ravens gained 421 yards, converted 62 percent of their third downs and controlled the clock for 35 minutes.

So, what was first on the minds of the team's offensive players after Saturday's 17-13 preseason victory at Carolina?

"We wish we could have scored three touchdowns," quarterback Joe Flacco said.

The offense has set its sights high this season, especially when it comes to the red zone. The Ravens scored touchdowns on two of their three trips inside the 20-yard line, but some bad habits stopped them from being perfect.

The red zone has historically been a trouble spot for the Ravens. Over the past four seasons, the Ravens haven't finished higher than 25th in red-zone offense.

If Saturday night was any indication, ranking in the bottom third of the NFL isn't going to cut it this season.

"It doesn't matter that you score touchdowns on the other two. We still feel like we left points on the board," tight end Todd Heap said. "I think that gives us more motivation when you get down there. We know you have to be focused and have to be on your game. I think that's everybody's mind-set."

Maybe renewed success inside the 20 can be linked to the resurgence of two Pro Bowl players. The Ravens scored their last two times in the red zone by going to Heap and running back Willis McGahee, players who were relegated to secondary roles last season.

Heap, who dropped his first pass of the game, rebounded in the second quarter by getting behind Panthers linebacker Na'il Diggs in the end zone and catching a 9-yard touchdown pass. It was an encouraging sign for Heap after last season, when he caught only two touchdowns from Flacco.

Tight ends can be valuable in the red zone because big, fast targets can get open in smaller spaces.

"That's where you see tight ends make plays," Heap said. "You have mismatches and advantages."

The Ravens are banking that the development of Flacco improves their red-zone production. Because it's a tighter space to work, this is the hardest area to adapt to the speed of the game for young quarterbacks.

Flacco misfired on his first four passes of the preseason inside the 20-yard line before completing two Saturday.

"You've got to be able to score from the 10-, 15- or 12-yard line throwing the ball," coach John Harbaugh said. "To see Joe make that throw and Todd make that catch, those are the kinds of things that give us a chance to be effective down there."

Generally, the best NFL teams in the red zone can run it into the end zone. While Ray Rice has solidified himself as the starter, McGahee has received most of the work close to the goal line.

Besides the Statue of Liberty play to Rice against the New York Jets, McGahee has carried the ball on five of the Ravens' six runs inside the 5-yard line (Le'Ron McClain had the other rushing attempt).

McGahee scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter Saturday, showing he can still punch the ball into the end zone. In five NFL seasons, he has 38 rushing touchdowns.

"I love the goal line," McGahee said. "It's a hit-or-miss play. Nine times out of 10, I want it to be a hit."

McGahee might have scored earlier if not for the Ravens stopping themselves. On their most frustrating drive, they took the ball to the Carolina 1-yard line.

On second-and-goal, rookie right tackle Michael Oher committed a false start. On second down from the 6, the Ravens were penalized for delay of game. Then, on second down from the 11, Flacco was sacked.

In three snaps, the Ravens went from the 1-yard line to the Panthers' 15. That's why the Ravens were pleased by their offensive performance but not satisfied.

"If we could have gotten rid of a couple costly penalties, we really would have accomplished everything we wanted," Heap said. "If we eliminate those penalties, I think we'll be right where we want to be."

Notes: : The Ravens are 3-0 in the preseason for the first time since 2000, their Super Bowl season. "That doesn't really mean anything in the big scheme because they don't count," Harbaugh said. ... The Ravens have to cut their roster from 80 players to 75 on Tuesday. ... Thirteen players, including kicker Graham Gano, quarterbacks Cleo Lemon and Drew Willy, and wide receiver Yamon Figurs suited up Saturday night but didn't play.

Dead zone

Over the previous four seasons, the Ravens haven't ranked higher than 25th in the red zone:

Year Rank TD pct

2005 t-28th 38.1

2006 28th 42.3

2007 27th 42.2

2008 25th 47.1

FINAL

PRESEASON GAME

Ravens @Falcons, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 11, MASN

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Inside

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