OWINGS MILLS – The end zone practically became forbidden territory for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, a no-crossing zone created as much by miscues as the Miami Dolphins having a stout defense.
It was the most glaring shortcoming for the Ravens during a 26-10 victory on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
In seven trips inside the Dolphins’ 20-yard-line, the Ravens offense only scored one touchdown as they were forced to settle for four field goals on five attempts from kicker Billy Cundiff. Now, the Ravens are tied for 23rd in the NFL in red-zone scoring with a 42.9 percent success rate with a dozen touchdowns on 28 scoring opportunities.
"They get paid to stop us and we get paid to score," said veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason, the owner of the Ravens’ lone red-zone touchdown Sunday on a 12-yard reception. "Sometimes, they win. Sometimes, we win. I think if we do not have the little mistakes, then we’ll score more often than not.
"I think we’ve gotten down there and we’ve done something to kind of push ourselves back out of the red zone. We have to start to minimize the penalties and some of the mistakes we have down in the red zone."
It’s not only the penalty bug that’s plaguing the Ravens in close quarters, though.
On a third-and-one situation at the Dolphins’ 7-yard line, Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain got stuffed by Karlos Dansby for a loss of one yard.
The Ravens decided to kick a field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-two.
"We’ve got to do better down there," McClain said. "In the long run, stuff like that will kills us. We’ve got to score touchdowns, not field goals."
On the Ravens’ ensuing red zone shot following a Lardarius Webb interception return to the Dolphins’ 4 in the second quarter, Willis McGahee was thrown for a 1-yard loss on first down.
Then, Joe Flacco was sacked by nose guard Paul Soliai.
The Ravens committed a delay of game penalty on third down prior to Flacco being sacked by outside linebacker Cameron Wake.
Then, punter Sam Koch muffed an accurate snap by Morgan Cox for an aborted field goal attempt on fourth down.
"I think it’s just execution," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We can do a better job. You know, don’t have field goals down there. We want to complete passes.
"We had a couple opportunities to complete some balls that would have been scores. We could have run the ball better. Miami did a nice job."
The Dolphins rank second in the league in red-zone defense.
A long drive stalled before halftime when Mason was penalized for offensive pass interference for pushing off in the end zone when he shoved cornerback Vontae Davis.
Despite picking up 11 yards on a Ray Rice run, tight end Todd Heap was flagged for a false start. That has become almost a weekly occurrence.
On third-and-11 at the Dolphins’ 14, right tackle Marshal Yanda was beaten by Wake again for another sack. That led to another Cundiff field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Ravens scored on field goals from 20 and 24 yards.
They followed a conservative approach intended to hold onto the lead after squandering 10-point fourth-quarter advantages in each of their two previous games.
"There’s certain things that come to play in the red zone," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We felt like at certain points of the game we had the game under control. There’s certain times where you just want to preserve a field goal and that’s what we did. You have to be smart."
In one sequence, Rice gained a total of one yard on a rush and two receptions followed by the Ravens scoring a field goal on fourth-and-1 at the Dolphins’ 3-yard line.
Then, the Ravens intentionally took a delay of game with 2:12 remaining rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Dolphins’ 1-yard line. Cundiff kicked another field goal for the Ravens’ final score.
"I went over to coach Harbaugh and told him to kick it," Boldin said. "There’s no way they score two touchdowns on our defense. The game is over at that point."
Nonetheless, the Ravens’ red-zone problems could come back and haunt them at some point. Perhaps as soon as Thursday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons rank seventh overall in red-zone defense
"You try to correct what you did wrong," Mason said. "Look at the film, be very critical of yourself. We understand that we’re going to get down there a lot as a team.
"What we have to start doing now is capitalizing. In order to capitalize, we have to make sure that we don’t have to do anything to shoot ourselves in the foot."