The New England Patriots are a comfortable 4-1, one game ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and Bovada’s new Super Bowl 51 favorite. Yet despite all the positive momentum flowing in Foxborough following the Patriots’ 33-13 rout of the Cleveland Browns in Week 5, New England has struggled mightily in one area this season.
Bill Belichick’s Patriots rank 30th in the NFL in red zone defense through 5 games this season, allowing opponents to score on 80 percent of their trips this season. In 2015, the Patriots finished the season 15th in red zone defense, surrendering close-range scores only 56.3 percent of the time opponents entered the red zone.
The head coach was asked about his defense’s deficiencies with its back against the wall Friday.
“We’re a third of the way through the season. Look we try to improve on everything, every week, that’s where we are. We’re in September/early October. Nothing probably is as good as it’s gonna be – at least I hope not — as it will be by the end of the year,” Belichick said.
“Statistically, some things are better than others, but regardless I think we try to continue to improve in [every area]. It doesn’t really matter what the stats are or aren’t. I mean, it matters. They’re somewhat relevant, but I think improving in every area is important.”
Why is it so hard to defend the red zone?
“Less field. Offensively, everybody’s closer to the line, so safeties are linebackers, linebackers are in a lot of cases borderline defensive linemen,” Belichick said. “Everything’s just compressed. You have to — a lot of things you have to handle differently. Routes are different, coverages are different.”
Fortunately for the Patriots, the team’s Week 6 opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, rank 30th in red zone scoring, finding the end zone 40 percent of the time they are within 20 yards of the goal line. The Bengals’ last win in Foxborough came in 1986.