Ravens Notebook

Ravens find tough sledding in red zone against the Texans

OWINGS MILLS – Ray Rice charged toward the right side, legs churning powerfully before coming to an unplanned dead stop.

The roadblock was imposing Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who threw Rice to the ground for a loss of five yards during the third quarter of the Ravens' 29-14 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens wound up settling for a 33-yard Billy Cundiff field goal on the drive, a continuation of a troubling negative trend for their red-zone offense as they came away with just two touchdowns in four trips inside the Texans' 20-yard line.

Although the Ravens (4-1) rank ninth in the NFL in scoring with a 29.6 average per contest, they also rank 29th in the league in red-zone offense. "We've got to get better in the red zone," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're happy with the field goals, but we're not happy with the fact they weren't touchdowns down there those other times. That's something we have to do better with. "We're not good enough down there yet. We haven't really been that spectacular down there all year. It's an area we have to get better at. We'll just keep working it, keep coming up with schemes. But, really, it comes down to executing the things we do a little bit better down there." The Ravens have scored touchdowns this season on just 36.8 percent of their 19 red-zone opportunities, coming away with seven touchdowns and 10 field goals.

Even though the shortcoming has yet to come back to haunt the Ravens with a loss triggered by a squandered opportunity, it's still a cause for some concern.

If not for a pair of personal fouls on Texans defensive end Antonio Smith in the first quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco might not have been able to plunge into the end zone on a one-yard sneak for a touchdown. After reaching the Texans' eight-yard line, fullback Vonta Leach was tackled for no gain. However, Smith was flagged for unnecessary roughness.

Then, Rice was stuffed for no gain on consecutive plays with the second one extended by Smith being flagged again for fighting with Ravens left offensive guard Andre Gurode. When the Ravens reached the Texans' seven-yard line in the third quarter, the Ravens had to settle for a 25-yard field goal when Rice was stuffed for a two-yard loss by Smith. The Texans now rank ninth in the league in red-zone defense.

"I don't think they did anything differently down there in the red zone," Harbaugh said. "I think they did what they have been doing really well, and they've been stopping people. We couldn't run the ball down there. That hurt us. You like to be able to run the ball down there a little bit. The field gets a little narrower for the passing game. "We had a nice screen pass where the guy made a nice play out there on [wide receiver] Anquan [Boldin], and they had a lot of coverage in the end zone. We got to the 10, 15-yard line, and the routes we tried to throw into the end zone were defended, and I thought Joe made good decisions not throwing the ball into those coverages, because that could have been, probably would have been, interceptions, actually." The Ravens made eight trips inside the Texans' 30-yard line Sunday as Cundiff was brought on to kick five field goals.

The Ravens' second red-zone touchdown followed a traditional method of success near the goal line: Hand the football off to a big running back and let him do his job. Backup running back Ricky Williams pounded into the end zone from four yards out in the fourth quarter.

However, the Ravens finished with a measly total of nine rushing yards on nine red-zone rushes. During the game, it appeared that the Texans got off the snap quicker, aggressively beating the Ravens at the point of attack. There were some missed blocks upfront, too.

"I don't know what it is," said Leach, an All-Pro lead blocker. "I have to go back and look at the film and evaluate it. We'll get it right. Down in the red zone, all it takes is one little thing to go wrong to screw up a drive." Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron attributed some of the breakdowns to getting accustomed to new personnel, including Leach and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.

"No doubt, we're kicking a lot of field goals," Cameron said. "That's a top 10 defense, give them credit. And we're going to get better. We've got some new guys, Bryant McKinnie and Vonta Leach and young guys. We'll get better and better and better."

Notebook: Flacco roughed up by Texans' pass rush

Joe Flacco took a beating Sunday, absorbing some punishing shots courtesy of the Houston Texans' defense.

Although the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback escaped unharmed despite being sacked twice and hit seven times during a 29-14 victory over the Texans at M&T Bank Stadium, the offensive line faltered enough to draw the attention of coach John Harbaugh.

"The thing that was a little disappointing was our pass protection," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe made some great throws, especially in that first drive, and he got hit every single time. And that's not good. I think it's a testament to Joe and his toughness. We've seen it, but we don't want Joe getting hit like that." Both times Flacco was sacked, it was by defensive end Tim Jamison.

Imagine what it might have been like if star outside linebacker Mario Williams hadn't suffered a season-ending torn pectoral the previous week against the Oakland Raiders.

"A couple times it was losing the one-on-one battle," Harbaugh said. "A couple times we misidentified the protection because of some of the looks they gave us maybe, but also things that weren't that complicated. I think we can do a better. I think everyone would agree that we can do a better job that way. At the end of the game we did a better job, but we don't need Joe getting hit like that."

The Texans' front seven features linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive linemen Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt, good personnel even with Williams out of the equation.

Afterward, Flacco defended his blockers. "The offensive line fought and fought all game," Flacco said. "They've got some good inside rushers, and I was throwing the ball a lot as I was getting hit and doing things like that. That's the name of the game sometimes. Our offensive line hung in there, fighting."

TAKING SIDES: When it comes to confrontations involving his brother and other NFL coaches, there's no mistaking where John Harbaugh's loyalty lies.

He'll stand behind his brother, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, every time. Harbaugh weighed in on the controversial incident that ensued between Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. The 49ers' coach exuberantly shook Schwartz's hand Sunday and clapped him on the back after pulling off an upset to remove the Lions from the undefeated ranks.

"I can tell you this, I think I know who was right," said Harbaugh, who declined to go into detail about his conversation with his brother Monday. "Whoever was right or wrong, I know whose side I'm on. I'm definitely taking sides, same side I'm always taking." Schwartz alleged that he was shoved and cursed at by Harbaugh.

Is there a postgame protocol for handshakes? "Everybody has got a lot to learn," John Harbaugh said with a smile. "I guess right now he's 5-1. If the biggest lesson he has right now is how to shake hands postgame after a victory, he's doing OK."

MONDAY NIGHT TRAVELS: The Ravens haven't hosted a Monday night game since a Dec. 3, 2007 loss to the New England Patriots where linebacker Bart Scott memorably tossed a penalty flag into the stands.

Now, the Ravens (4-1) are preparing to travel for a Monday night game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) at EverBank Field. So, what gives?

"Aren't we in enough controversy with the family right now to be involved in that?" Harbaugh said, drawing laughter from the assembled media. "No, we're happy to go play. Right now, we're happy to go play wherever they put us. Someday, we'll get a Monday night game.

But we had a big Sunday night game [New York Jets], we've got a big Thursday night game coming up [49ers on Thanksgiving]. So, we've had some really cool games this year. I think it's good that way. One of these days, we'll get a Monday night game."

INJURY UPDATE: Backup inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe had a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday on his left hamstring and right groin. Depending on how fast he recovers, Ellerbe could be sidelined for a few weeks. Ellerbe was just coming off a right hamstring injury. The Ravens reported no new injuries. "I'm sure there's sore," Harbaugh said. "There's nothing injury-wise or anything that should be an issue even for Wednesday."

PAYING RESPECTS: Harbaugh was dressed in a suit for his weekly press conference after attending the funeral mass for Pat Modell, the late wife of former Ravens and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell.

She died Wednesday at age 80. "It was just a beautiful, beautiful ceremony down at the Basilica," Harbaugh said. "[Sons] David and John [Modell] did an incredible job with the eulogies, and it kind of makes you remember how important family is. I think the Ravens are a family, the Raven nation, the fans, everybody, our families, and the Modells are just a great family. It was very meaningful to spend most of the day with the Modells." With Harbaugh absent, assistant head coach and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg ran a walkthrough practice.

"Jerry Rosburg held practice," Harbaugh said. "Did a great job, from what I heard. Heard it was a little short. No, just kidding, just kidding."

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