The Buffalo Bills' offense has a serious case of the red-zone blues.
In 16 possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the Bills have scored touchdowns just 25 percent of the time, the lowest rate in the NFL. Their four red-zone touchdowns also rank last in the league.
Red-zone failures were the difference in Sunday's 20-6 loss at Baltimore. The Bills were inside the Ravens' 20-yard line four times and couldn't get into the end zone.
"We need to score more points in the red zone. Everybody knows that," said center Ross Tucker. "If we had done that on Sunday we would have won."
Poor red zone production is nothing new to this team. Buffalo converted 46.7 percent of their TD chances last year, ranking 22nd in the NFL.
Things were supposed to be different under first-year coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Tom Clements. Instead, the Bills continue to beinept on an area of the field where efficiency is vital.
The Bills have managed to score points 10 out of 16 times in the red zone. Six field goals are OK, but sometimes you have turn three points into seven.
Mularkey's former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1), have scored 14 touchdowns on 17 red-zone possessions for an NFL-high 82.4 percent success rate. Kansas City (2-4) is second in the league at 81.8 percent (18 of 22).
Mental errors such as penalties, poor throws and questionable decisions by quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and missed blocking assignments have all contributed to the Bills' red-zone woes this year.
So have turnovers. The Bills have given the ball away four times in the red zone. Another possession ended when running back Travis Henry was stopped on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter of Buffalo's 13-10 loss at Oakland. The Bills had one offensive touchdown in three red-zone visits during their 20-13 win over Miami two weeks ago, though their last possession ended when they let the game clock expire.
"It's a culmination of a lot of things that we can chip away and knock one thing out at a time and not try to fix the entire problem," Mularkey said. "We've got to get better. We know the enemy and we'll try to address it."
Although the Bills have the NFL's 26th-ranked offense, 16 red-zone possessions show they have been able to move the football. However, they aren't taking advantage of their scoring opportunities.
That's why the Bills are the second-lowest scoring team in the NFL at 12.8 points per game. They also have a league-low six offensive touchdowns and haven't scored a rushing touchdown in 37 quarters. Comparatively, the Chiefs scored eight rushing TDs in one game Sunday.
"If we weren't getting down there at all, I'd be going, 'Holy cow. We are in some serious trouble,' " Mularkey said. "But the trouble is once we get down there we're not finishing the drives."
Against Baltimore, Buffalo had offensive drives end at the Ravens 6, 3, 19 and 5-yard lines. A false start penalty on right tackle Mike Williams and a sack forced the Bills to settle for a field goal after getting the ball on a turnover. They settled for another field goal in the third quarter and Bledsoe threw a pair of critical interceptions in the end zone during the fourth quarter.
The first pick was clearly a case of trying to force a pass into double coverage. But Mularkey blamed "poor officiating" for Bledsoe's second interception. Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis could have called for holding intended receiver Lee Evans, but the flag wasn't thrown. Mularkey added that Bledsoe's second option, tight end Mark Campbell, was also being held by a defender.
"Instead of a first and goal, we had a 10-point swing," Mularkey said. "They had a first and goal within the same play. We still had a chance on the play. But it was so blatant. Unfortunately, we didn't get the call."
Whether the no-call was fair or not, the Bills ultimately have only themselves to blame for their red-zone problems.
The Bills better improve in a hurry. Up next are the Arizona Cardinals, who are first in the NFL in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 23.8 of their opponents' possessions inside the 20 (5 of 21).