Red zone has become rugged territory for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- The red zone has also been coined the green zone over the years because of the incentive clauses for touchdowns contained in players' contracts. <br><br> In the case of the Baltimore Ravens, their investment in sustained drives hasn't paid major dividends. They typically settle for a field goal instead of being able to punch the football into the end zone.

In 27 possessions inside opponents' 20, the Ravens (7-5) have only scored 12 touchdowns for a touchdown percentage of 44.4 percent and a ranking of 12th in the AFC.

A conservative offensive approach, the reliability of kicker Matt Stover and the failure of quarterback Kyle Boller and his receivers to execute sharply combined to create this lukewarm trend.

One of the secondary causes in the Ravens' 27-26 loss to the Bengals -- besides a colossal defensive collapse of 24 points allowed in the fourth quarter -- was the team's inability to score deep in Cincinnati territory. Baltimore converted only one of four red-zone opportunities.

"I don't know if you can really pinpoint one thing," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "We didn't really turn the ball over in the red zone. It's just the little things.

"Once we get the rhythm in the red zone where we know we can score, it will be great. We have to be patient, it will come."

Against the Bengals, Stover kicked four field goals. His first field goal, a 20-yard chip shot in the first quarter, when the coaching staff opted not to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Bengals' 2.

"Yes, you would like to have touchdowns," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I look at it with only mild amusement that going for it on 4th-and-1 in New York got my butt ripped on a regular basis and not going for it against Cincinnati got my butt ripped.

"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.'"

Stover's 22-yarder with six seconds remaining in the first half came on 3rd-and-goal at the Bengals' 4, rookie wideout Clarence Moore dropped a slightly off-target Boller throw on the previous down.

In the fourth quarter, Baltimore ran a draw play on 3rd-and-9 with Chester Taylor to set up a 38-yard field goal.

With less than two minutes remaining, the Ravens ran again on third down while already in field-goal range. Boller threw incomplete to Travis Taylor on the ensuing play before the kick.

"It's definitely something that we need to get better at going into these last four games and hopefully the playoffs," tight end Todd Heap said. "When we get the field position and get into the red zone, that's when we need to be successful. It will be an emphasis this week."

Meanwhile, Cincinnati was hitting touchdown passes, trumping the Ravens' field goal collection.

Were the Ravens playing it too safe?

"Very rarely do we call plays to position for a field goal," Billick said. "You try to get more. There is a balance between being prudent and leaving yourself vulnerable for the ultimate goal, which is to score and put yourself in the lead, and being aggressive and taking a shot. That's not to say that you are playing conservatively just for a field goal."

Functionally, however, that's exactly what the Ravens have been doing.

Boller has been running a vanilla assortment of red-zone plays, including safe, predictable fade passes. He overthrew Randy Hymes in a loss to the New England Patriots in that manner.

The positive aspect of the Ravens' performance in the red zone is the 123 points they've scored and the 13 field goals they've kicked. Yet, traveling into the end zone has become a treacherous journey.

"The No. 1 determinant in the red zone is points," Billick said. "You'd like touchdowns, but if you go back through the years one of the major determinants for success is if you get into the red zone, you come away with points.

"That's a function of Matt Stover. That's a function of not making mistakes and taking yourself out of field goal range."

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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