Obviously, one must be cautious of overstating anything that happens in the preseason — let alone such a small sample size of one game — but the Patriots were strong in the red area against the Philadelphia Eagles. While their starters were on the field in the first half, the Patriots scored touchdowns on both offensive trips to the red zone, and they held Philadelphia to a field goal during its lone first-half visit inside the 20. Even further, the Eagles’ first-stringers had two other trips inside the Pats’ 30-yard line, which resulted in a converted field goal and a blocked field goal.
The Patriots have put in a solid amount of work in red-zone situations throughout training camp. Even when head coach Bill Belichick has his team working in other areas, quarterback Tom Brady will collect his wide receivers and run simulated plays close to the end zone
“You don’t get all the reps in practice that you probably need for the game, so in between sessions, or on special teams or when guys are running the ball, we come over and do some really specific work,” Brady said of the side sessions.
The Patriots were efficient but not spectacular in the red zone last year. Offensively, they made 65 trips to the red zone and scored 58 times (89.2 percent), but they only scored 33 touchdowns (50.8 percent) and had two turnovers. The offense didn’t have any games with a perfect touchdown rate in the red area, but the defense allowed opponents to score touchdowns on every red-zone trip on seven occasions. (The Patriots managed to win five of those games.) Even worse, the AFC East champion Miami Dolphins scored touchdowns on all eight of their red-zone possessions against the Patriots in 2008.
New England’s defense wasn’t too successful against many of its other opponents in that area, either. Their opposition scored on 42 of 45 red-zone trips (93.3 percent) with 30 touchdowns (66.7 percent), and the Patriots didn’t force a turnover in the red zone all year. After the Pats’ defense stopped their opponents on two of their first three trips to the red zone last season, they allowed opposing offenses to score on 41 consecutive visits inside the New England 20-yard line.
Futility in the red zone contributed to a pair of the Patriots’ losses last season, when they missed the playoffs and the division championship because of a tiebreaker. New England made four red-zone trips during an 18-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9, but the Patriots only came away with three field goals and a touchdown. The Colts, conversely, found the end zone on both of their red-zone visits.
Two weeks later, the Patriots made four trips to the red zone in a 34-31 overtime loss to the New York Jets, and they produced three touchdowns and a field goal. The Jets, meanwhile, had three touchdowns and two field goals in their five trips to the red zone. While the Patriots were better in the red zone against the Jets than they were against the Colts, the slightest improvement would have vaulted the Patriots into the playoffs.
That’s a fine line the Patriots aren’t willing to flirt with in 2009.
“Those are critical plays,” Brady said. “They’re always critical to winning football games. The difference between seven points and three points, over the course of a football season, is probably four or five different games. If you can be good in the red area, you’re going to have a pretty good football team on both sides of the ball. So we work really hard in the red area to try to make sure we are getting in [the end zone] when we’re down there.”
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