Red-zone woes continue no matter who's the QB

OWINGS MILLS -- The red zone remains haunted territory for the Baltimore Ravens, and the season-long problem hasn't abated no matter who's under center. Regardless of whether it's starter Steve McNair or backup Kyle Boller quarterbacking the offense, the Ravens (4-2) have generated the same inept results: a series of squandered touchdown opportunities.

Baltimore has scored just six touchdowns in 21 red-zone shots for a 28.5 percent success rate, which ranks them third from the bottom of the league.

"It kind of tells you it's not the quarterback, doesn't it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. With Boller starting in place of McNair due to back and groin injuries, the Ravens went 1-for-5 inside the 20-yard line Sunday in a 22-3 victory over the St. Louis Rams that didn't have to be nearly that close.

With the exception of running back Willis McGahee's six-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the other four trips near the goal line led to four Matt Stover field goals. Now, Stover leads the NFL with 18 field goals.

The most glaring red-zone breakdown came on a holding penalty late in the third quarter on center Chris Chester that nullified a second McGahee touchdown run. Then, Boller, who was hit from behind under heavy pressure behind an offensive line featuring three rookies, tossed an interception to Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa that was intended for tight end Quinn Sypniewski.

"We got down to the goal line and it was unfortunate about the penalty," Billick said. "Then the interception was one of those things. Kyle got blown up. There again, one of those situations where the linemen learned something and Kyle was the recipient of it."

The Ravens blew another chance when they got the ball back on the ensuing possession as nose guard Kelly Gregg recovered Rams quarterback Gus Frerotte's fumble.

After a promising start with McGahee gaining six and five yards on the ground down to the Rams' 16-yard line, the drive halted. McGahee's next attempt was stuffed for one yard by Tinoisamoa and defensive lineman James Hall. On second down, Boller threw incomplete on a pass meant for wide receiver Demetrius Williams.

On 3rd-and-9, Billick opted for a Musa Smith run up the middle that gained only two yards and set up Stover's fourth field goal.

"For some reason, we're still trying to figure it out," offensive guard Jason Brown said "If we had it figured out, we would have better efficiency. For some reason, the chemistry is just not clicking.

"We're still trying to fine-tune everything. It's going to click. I have faith. Everybody else has faith. It's going to come sooner than later."

The McGahee score broke a streak of five quarters without a touchdown that dated back to the fourth quarter of a 27-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns when McNair hit Sypniewski on a short touchdown pass.

"We got in twice, but we had a penalty," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "So, we did a good job. We would've had two in the red zone, but we came out with the victory.

"And that's all I care about. Y'all can write what you want. Everything else is correctable and fixable."

The score marked McGahee's first touchdown run since joining the Ravens in an offseason trade from the Buffalo Bills, Sunday's road opponent.

Despite McGahee ranking fourth in the NFL in rushing with 525 yards on 127 carries, which is 31 more carries than NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson (607 yards, four touchdowns), the Minnesota Vikings' electrifying rookie, five more carries than the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson (527 yards, six touchdowns)) and 25 more than the Miami Dolphins' Ronnie Brown (526 yards, four touchdowns), McGahee hasn't been able to score nearly as often as his running back colleagues.

"It's all good, so I'm happy, everybody's happy," McGahee said. "We finally scored in the red zone."

Over the past two games, the Ravens have produced one touchdown and eight field goals. With a schedule that increases significantly in difficulty during the second half against the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers, defending AFC West champion Chargers, the undefeated New England Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens are unlikely to be able to overcome this type of inefficiency.

"We'll continue to try to crack that nut," Billick said. "Not coming away with touchdowns at some point will cost us. It hasn't the last two games."

NOTE: The Ravens' annual Halloween party raised over $100,000 for Goodwill Industries. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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