Red zone is dangerous territory for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- Despite a revamped, aggressive approach that's starting to pay dividends, the Baltimore Ravens' offense is still colliding with a barrier that's not self-imposed. The red zone remains restricted territory for the Ravens.

Although the Ravens (2-5) generated a season-high for points in a 20-19 loss Monday night to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have scored only seven touchdowns for the lowest total in the NFL. Baltimore is the only team in the league that has failed to score 20 points.

In six trips inside the Steelers' 30-yard line, the Ravens scored one touchdown. They have produced only one touchdown in their past 31 offensive drives.

"We're doing all the things that we can: taking the shots down the field, having a guy catch the ball and run with it and handing the ball off," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Those are the three ways you can move the ball down there. We've got to orchestrate what we're doing down there better, and guys have to make plays."

A primary reason why the Ravens have the worst scoring offense (12.6 per game) in the league is because they rank 26th at scoring inside opponents' 20-yard line. In 18 trips into the red zone, the Ravens have a 38.9 percent touchdown percentage.

"We need to make a play here or there," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "You are not going to score touchdowns every time you get in the red zone. Obviously, we want to put them in the end zone, but also just come away with points.

"Just make sure that we don't do the dumb thing and force it like I did in Detroit, get a pick again and have you guys talking about that."

Wright was referring to a critical end-zone interception he tossed in the Ravens' loss to the Lions, and he makes a valid point. Especially heading into Sunday's game against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Bengals have generated the most turnovers in the league with 28, including 20 interceptions. They lead the NFL in turnover ratio with an astounding plus-20 margin.

For Wright, who's thrown nine interceptions and six touchdowns, a relatively cautious approach makes sense.

"You have to know where their guys are because they are really good with ball-hawking and getting to the ball," said Wright, who has thrown an interception in all but one of his six starts. "You have to be careful with the ball and how you place the ball because if they get their hands on it, they're going to catch it. You have to make sure you make good decisions."

Another problem the Ravens encounter near the goal line is the struggles of a running game that has spiraled downward rapidly and ranks 25th overall with 93.3 yards per contest.

Former NFL Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis is off to the worst seven-game start to his career with 387 yards for a 3.0 average. He has rushed for only one touchdown and has yet to eclipse 100 yards.

However, Lewis appeared to run much harder against the Steelers after being criticized for admitting that his health was a concern because he's in a contract year.

"I think he's recognizing that he's got to get back to that a little more," Billick said. "I think he was anxious before about popping the big run and passing up some of the physical yards that are there for him."
Meanwhile, the Ravens opened up their offense significantly against the Steelers as Wright completed 25 of 44 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown along with two interceptions. Wright completed five passes of 15 yards or more, including a 32-yard post to wide receiver Derrick Mason.

"We've got to keep on plugging," Mason said. "I can't say there's one thing in particular that's missing. We've got to look at the positives that we got on a roll as an offense.

"We were able to do some good things against a good defense. We hate to lose, but we have to build on it."

Plus, the Ravens answered the Steelers' opening touchdown drive with an extended scoring drive of their own capped by Wright's 13-yard touchdown pass to running back Chester Taylor. Isolated moments like that give Wright hope that the status quo might finally be changing in Baltimore.

"It was very encouraging for us to come out and do the things that we did in Pittsburgh," Wright said. "It was encouraging for me and it was encouraging for the rest of the offense.

"We were not going to be the same old Ravens offense where we just try to hold on and make the defense win games. I just think we are attacking more."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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