Patriots defense seeing red this season

Patriots defense seeing red this season
October 27, 2011, 10:17 pm
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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."