Patriots defense seeing red this season


Patriots defense seeing red this season

FOXBORO Every week it seems a new team has their way with the New England Patriots defense . . . that is, until they enter the Red zone.

For all the criticism the Pats defense has taken this season, it's hard to imagine that their red-zone performance isn't all that different than what we've seen in recent years.

Teams this season have successfully converted 13 of their 24 red-zone trips against the Patriots, into touchdowns.

After a few finger punches on the old calculator, the screen spits out 54.17 as the rate in which opponents are scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, which ranks 20th in the NFL.

While that certainly leaves room for improvement, it's actually consistent with what New England has done in recent years.

Last year, opponents scored touchdowns 54 percent of the time they were in the red zone, which was down from 55 percent in 2009.

As much as the Patriots would love to shut teams down and limit their ball movement all game long, holding their own in the Red zone is critical to their team - any team for that matter - having a successful defense.

"You have to be able to win in the red area," said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "There's a difference from three points to seven points."

There is indeed a formula for success in the Red zone, a formula that changes from one game to the next.

"You have guys that go down there and want to run the ball in the red zone," Wilfork said. "You have guys that go down there and want to throw shots at the end zone. You have different set-ups down there, but we have to be able to defend it - defend it all."

Yes, red-zone defense often comes down to which team is more physical, able to control the line of scrimmage and win individual battles in the trenches.

But there's also a different mindset among defensive linemen inside the red zone, well aware that the margin for error is slim.

"Everything becomes tighter," said defensive lineman Shaun Ellis. "Plus the offense doesn't have that much field to work with."

The key, Ellis said, is communicating - something he believes he and the rest of the Patriots defensive line are doing a much better job at lately.

"It's starting to come together," Ellis said. "We just want to keep improving, and when the stretch comes, we're ready."

Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32


Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.

Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.

Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.

"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."

The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.

The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.

"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."

Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.