Ravens improving in the red zone

OWINGS MILLS – Infuriated after being stonewalled repeatedly in the red zone by the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season, the Baltimore Ravens have taken on a hard-nosed mentality when it comes to running the football down by the goal line. "We want to get after them," offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "You just want to be physical and play power football."

During the Ravens' 17-15 loss in November to the Colts, they were embarrassed when they gained a first-and-goal at the Colts' one-yard line in the fourth quarter and squandered the prime scoring opportunity.

First, quarterback Joe Flacco went nowhere on a sneak.

And then running back Willis McGahee was tackled twice in a row for no gain as he had nowhere to run during the dramatic goal-line stand as Baltimore was forced to settle for a 20-yard Billy Cundiff field goal.

The Ravens were unable to budge defensive tackle Dan Muir, who slammed Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain for a two-yard loss on a third-and-one at the Colts' 12-yard line earlier in the game. And they had no answers for the penetration of linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session.

The Ravens wound up kicking five field goals with no touchdowns. In four red-zone trips, they were limited to two field goals, one missed field goal as well as Flacco's interception to Brackett late in the fourth quarter.

Since that game, a lot has changed for the Ravens. Heading into Saturday night's AFC divisional playoff against the Colts (14-2) at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Ravens (10-7) have become much more of a heavy-duty offense literally in the trenches.

Following the first Colts game where Baltimore rushed for just 98 yards on 31 carries as Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice needed 20 carries to reach 71 yards, Yanda replaced Chris Chester in the starting lineup.

Now, the Ravens rank 11th in the league in red-zone offense having converted 52.6 percent of their 57 possessions for 30 touchdowns.

"How far have we come?" center Matt Birk said. "I don't know. It's always a work in progress. If you have a successful game and you score touchdowns in the red zone ever time, it's not like, ‘Oh, okay, we've got it fixed.'

"Every week is a new challenge. Every defense is a new challenge. Obviously, it's always, no matter who we're playing, it's always a point of emphasis."

The Ravens trampled the New England Patriots during a 33-14 AFC wild-card victory Sunday where they rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries.

"One thing we've done is that we've established that we're going to run the football when we want to run the football," Rice said. "We'll pass when we want to pass, but all starts upfront.

"They're tougher on short yardage and goal-line stuff than in the open field, and you have to score seven against that team because if you give Peyton Manning any kind of chance, he's capable of lighting the scoreboard up."

Against the Patriots, Rice rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns with McGahee contributing 62 yards and a score.

"They feel like they can pound the ball with two great running backs," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock told Indianapolis reporters. "We want to shut that down early and put the ball in the quarterback's hands and see what he does with it."

During Sunday's win at Gillette Stadium, the Ravens lined up several times in a goal-line package devised by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron that includes several 300-pounders, including 6-foot-4, 345-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as well as Chester as extra tight ends.

The Ravens converted three of their five red-zone shots for touchdowns, including runs from McClain, Rice and McGahee from one, one and three yards out.

"That was just the package that we had in because coach Cameron, he saw something that he thought would work and it worked well," Birk said. "It's different every single week depending on who you're playing and what you've done previous weeks."

Indianapolis ranks 13th in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 49 percent of the time.

"It's important to run the ball anywhere," coach John Harbaugh said. "It's important to run the ball in the red zone because the field contracts as far as throwing the ball. That's going to be a huge part of this football game, and that's where we've got to excel."

The Colts rank 24th against the run, allowing 126.5 yards per contest.

And the Ravens have built the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing attack, averaging 137.5 yards per game. "They give you lots of problems," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "Obviously, their offensive line is blocking extremely well. They're a physical bunch, and they did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage. Yeah, they certainly do concern us."

When it comes to blocking the Colts, it involves dealing with a moving target.

The Colts have an extremely fast, undersized front seven. They stunt quite a bit and try to shoot gaps to penetrate the backfield.

"As much as you say physically, they're a team that moves around upfront," Rice said. "We've got to pick up their movement and capitalize when they move. When they move and slant upfront, we got to capitalize off that."

So, this matchup promises an encounter between the Colts' speedy, smaller linebackers and a hefty Ravens offense that features a 260-pound fullback in McClain to go with a large offensive line.

"They're hard to block, it's really hard to get on those guys," Harbaugh said. "They fly around and they're just tough to block. It's a very fast defense."

Ravens Insider Top Stories