Why Ravens are sizzling in red zone at historic pace

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Patrick Mahomes is throwing touchdown passes in bunches. The Los Angeles Rams are putting up 30 points every week.

What other offense has been unstoppable this year?

The Baltimore Ravens became the first team in NFL history to score on their first 12 red-zone trips. A franchise known for shattering the record books for defense is now setting the standard for efficiency inside the 20-yard line.

Joe Flacco is being smart and accurate with the ball. Buck Allen suddenly turns into Todd Gurley around the goal line. And, overall, it's been a team effort to remain perfect in the red zone, where seven players have punched the ball into the end zone.

"We’ve got good playmakers," Flacco said, "and we put a lot of pressure on the defense with the guys that we have out there."

The Ravens have never really been synonymous with offensive excellence. The only memorable NFL record set by the Ravens offense was going through a five-game touchdown drought in 2000.

It was only a few years ago when the Ravens had been one of the worst teams inside the 20. From 2013 to 2016, Baltimore scored touchdowns 50 percent of the time in the red zone (104-of-208), which ranked No. 30 in the NFL.

Why have the Ravens' fortunes changed in the most important part of the field? Here are three reasons for Baltimore being impeccable in the red zone:

Flacco's near-flawless play. There are only two quarterbacks with a completion rate over 75 percent along with more than four touchdown passes in the red zone: Drew Brees and Flacco.

Being sharp around the goal line hasn't always been the case for Flacco. From 2013 to 2016, he completed 53.5 percent of his passes in the red zone, throwing nine interceptions. Only Eli Manning was picked off more times inside the red zone (13) than Flacco.

This season, Flacco is 11-of-14 with five touchdown passes inside the 20.

Asked why the Ravens have been so efficient inside the 20-yard line, coach John Harbaugh said, "It probably starts with Joe. Joe has done a great job making plays, making throws, of trusting his guys and also extending some plays -- that’s been big."

The emergence of Buck Allen. Fantasy owners are not happy with Allen vulturing Alex Collins' touchdown opportunities. But the Ravens are extremely pleased with Allen's knack of getting into the end zone, which he has done four times.

The only player with more red-zone scores than Allen is Gurley, a first-team All-Pro last season. It's difficult to argue with the Ravens pulling Collins and turning to their third-down back. Allen has been nearly automatic inside the 5-yard line with three touchdowns on four touches.

"I think Buck Allen has become one of the real legitimate players in this league -- kind of quietly," Harbaugh said. "He’s become a top-level player."

Relying on an assortment of playmakers. Teams can't lock onto one player when Baltimore gets inside the 20-yard line. Seven players have scored red-zone touchdowns for the Ravens in the first three games. That's more than the combined number of players who've scored inside the 20 for the Cardinals, Packers, Cowboys and Jets.

The Ravens believe they can continue this high level of production because tight end Hayden Hurst (this year's top pick) hasn't played because of a stress fracture in his foot and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (their best red-zone target) has scored only one touchdown.

"The fact that [Crabtree is] still going to be a threat down there... Teams know that, so they’re going to have to cover him," Harbaugh said. "If they don’t, he’s going to score. That’s a big plus. Marty [Mornhinweg, offensive coordinator] and [senior offensive assistant] Craig Ver Steeg and all those coaches have done a great job of scheme in the red zone, and like you said, spreading the ball out, keeping people off balance, running past, and there are some really good ideas down there."