OWINGS MILLS – Ray Rice charged toward the right side, legs churning powerfully before coming to an unplanned dead stop.
The roadblock was imposing Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, who threw Rice to the ground for a loss of five yards during the third quarter of the Ravens’ 29-14 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens wound up settling for a 33-yard Billy Cundiff field goal on the drive, a continuation of a troubling negative trend for their red-zone offense as they came away with just two touchdowns in four trips inside the Texans’ 20-yard line.
Although the Ravens (4-1) rank ninth in the NFL in scoring with a 29.6 average per contest, they also rank 29th in the league in red-zone offense.
“We’ve got to get better in the red zone,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re happy with the field goals, but we’re not happy with the fact they weren’t touchdowns down there those other times. That’s something we have to do better with.
“We’re not good enough down there yet. We haven’t really been that spectacular down there all year. It’s an area we have to get better at. We’ll just keep working it, keep coming up with schemes. But, really, it comes down to executing the things we do a little bit better down there."
The Ravens have scored touchdowns this season on just 36.8 percent of their 19 red-zone opportunities, coming away with seven touchdowns and 10 field goals.
Even though the shortcoming has yet to come back to haunt the Ravens with a loss triggered by a squandered opportunity, it’s still a cause for some concern.
If not for a pair of personal fouls on Texans defensive end Antonio Smith in the first quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco might not have been able to plunge into the end zone on a one-yard sneak for a touchdown.
After reaching the Texans’ eight-yard line, fullback Vonta Leach was tackled for no gain. However, Smith was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Then, Rice was stuffed for no gain on consecutive plays with the second one extended by Smith being flagged again for fighting with Ravens left offensive guard Andre Gurode.
When the Ravens reached the Texans’ seven-yard line in the third quarter, the Ravens had to settle for a 25-yard field goal when Rice was stuffed for a two-yard loss by Smith.
The Texans now rank ninth in the league in red-zone defense.
“I don’t think they did anything differently down there in the red zone,” Harbaugh said. “I think they did what they have been doing really well, and they’ve been stopping people. We couldn’t run the ball down there. That hurt us. You like to be able to run the ball down there a little bit. The field gets a little narrower for the passing game.
“We had a nice screen pass where the guy made a nice play out there on [wide receiver] Anquan [Boldin], and they had a lot of coverage in the end zone. We got to the 10, 15-yard line, and the routes we tried to throw into the end zone were defended, and I thought Joe made good decisions not throwing the ball into those coverages, because that could have been, probably would have been, interceptions, actually.”
The Ravens made eight trips inside the Texans’ 30-yard line Sunday as Cundiff was brought on to kick five field goals.
The Ravens’ second red-zone touchdown followed a traditional method of success near the goal line: Hand the football off to a big running back and let him do his job.
Backup running back Ricky Williams pounded into the end zone from four yards out in the fourth quarter.
However, the Ravens finished with a measly total of nine rushing yards on nine red-zone rushes.
During the game, it appeared that the Texans got off the snap quicker, aggressively beating the Ravens at the point of attack. There were some missed blocks upfront, too.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Leach, an All-Pro lead blocker. “I have to go back and look at the film and evaluate it. We’ll get it right. Down in the red zone, all it takes is one little thing to go wrong to screw up a drive.”
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron attributed some of the breakdowns to getting accustomed to new personnel, including Leach and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
“No doubt, we’re kicking a lot of field goals,” Cameron said. “That’s a top 10 defense, give them credit. And we’re going to get better. We’ve got some new guys, Bryant McKinnie and Vonta Leach and young guys. We’ll get better and better and better.”