The Browns statistically are the worst red zone team in the AFC, and that is something they are determined to turn around, starting Sunday when they play the Ravens in Baltimore.
The Browns were inside the opponent's 20-yard-line seven times in the first four games and scored only one touchdown -- a one-yard pass from Trent Dilfer to Steve Heiden against the Packers Sept. 18. Six other drives bogged down and ended in field goals by Phil Dawson.
Dilfer is taking it upon himself to improve efficiency in what for the Browns has been more of a dead zone than the red zone. He will have to do it without rookie wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who is recovering from an infection in his right elbow. The injury kept Edwards out of the game against the Bears last Sunday.
"I did an evaluation of myself," Dilfer said. "I'm disappointed I haven't played my best football on third down and the red zone. I don't think it's been awful, but there's room for improvement."
Dilfer ranks 11th among NFL quarterbacks with a 91.5 passer rating. His ranking drops to 17th and his rating to 71.9 on third down.
Two red zone trips in the 27-13 loss to the Bengals ended in short field goals. On the first, with the Browns at the Bengals' 17, two runs by Reuben Droughns were followed by a deflected pass center Jeff Faine caught for a one-yard loss. The second started on the Bengals' 18. A pass to Dennis Northcutt lost two yards, a scramble by Dilfer gained three and a pass to Northcutt was incomplete.
A week later the Browns had first-and-goal on the Packers 6. A pass to Heiden was incomplete. A run by Droughns around left end lost eight yards and a pass to Heiden gained 11. Dawson kicked a 21-yard field goal on fourth down. The Browns won, 26-24.
The Browns were just outside the red zone, first-and-10 on the Colts 21, on the first play of the second quarter Sept. 25 in a game they lost 13-6. Droughns ran up the middle for a yard, a pass to Lee Suggs gained two and Dilfer was sacked for four yards. Dawson kicked a 40-yard field goal.
With the Colts leading 13-3 in the third quarter, the Browns started a march on their 9. They got to the Colts 18 and ran six plays in the red zone but didn't score a touchdown. Dilfer was 1-for-3 passing inside the 20. The drive stalled when Antonio Bryant failed to hold onto a pass in the end zone.
A possession against the Bears started at the Chicago 18 after cornerback Ray Mickens recovered a fumble. It sputtered at the 2 and Dawson kicked a 19-yard field goal. The fact the Browns have squeezed out two victories during the red zone drought does not appease Dilfer.
"When you're scoring touchdowns in the red zone in the passing game, the quarterback is making bold decisions and letting his receivers go make plays," Dilfer said. "I haven't given my receivers enough opportunities in the red zone. You have to trust your receivers can outplay the guy covering them. It's not always about scheme."
SERIES HISTORY: 13th meeting. The Ravens lead, 8-4. This rivalry is still intense for Browns fans, but it lost some pizzazz when Art Modell sold the franchise to Steve Bisciotti. This game has special meaning, however, because Nov. 6 will mark the 10th anniversary of Modell announcing he was moving the Browns franchise he bought in 1961 to Baltimore.