Patriots Red-Zone Defense Needs Work

The New England Patriots understand they have work to do with their defense after allowing LaDainian Tomlinson to rack up 134 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots defense has not been it's usual stout self in the red-zone, allowing opposing teams to score virtually every time they reach the red zone, an alarming trend. The Patriots are dead last in terms of red zone defense and 23rd overall against the run. If they don't stop Atlanta's ground game, those numbers can only get worse.

PHOTO: San Diego Chargers' Antonio Gates runs as New England Patriots' Chad Brown closes in Oct 2, 2005(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Patriots Red-Zone Defense Needs Work
By Site Staff

The New England Patriots have given up some big plays this season - a 73-yard scoring bomb to Oakland's Randy Moss in the opener and an 85-yard catch-and-run touchdown to Pittsburgh's Hines Ward in Week 3. But the short-range scores are really killing the Patriots.

In winning back-to-back Super Bowls, the Patriots were famous for stiffening on defense in the red zone, either forcing opponents to settle for field goals or forcing them to cough the ball up. Sure, the Patriots allowed their share of touchdowns - every team does. But cracking the New England 20-yard line was never a guarantee of success.

So far this season it is.

Through four games the Patriots (2-2) rank dead last in the NFL in red-zone defense, having allowed nine TDs on 12 opponents' drives. That's a stunning fall-off from their final regular-season rankings in their three Super Bowl seasons of 2004 (No. 3), 2003 (No. 4) and 2001 (No. 3).

It's also a good sign for the Atlanta Falcons, who host the Patriots Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons (3-1) rank fifth in the league in red-zone scoring, getting touchdowns on nine of 13 drives.

Without LB Tedy Bruschi and SS Rodney Harrison - two players with a knack for making big plays near their own goal line - the Patriots are starting to resemble the 2002 club that finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. That team - like the 2005 edition - was pathetic in the red zone, ranking 30th in the league.

The Patriots thought they had made progress in Week 3 when the Steelers penetrated the 20 three times and came away with one TD and a pair of field goals. Then last week the Chargers sent the Patriots tumbling back to square one by hitting pay dirt three times in four chances.

San Diego made it look easy, too. The Chargers' first four plays in the red zone went like this: 11-yard TD pass, 8-yard run, 8-yard TD run, 1-yard TD run. LaDainian Tomlinson had the two scoring runs. On both plays, Patriots ILB Monty Beisel, Bruschi's replacement, got a hand on Tomlinson but was powerless to prevent him from crashing into the end zone.

"Yeah, we missed some tackles," Beisel said. "Definitely, tackling was an issue."

Tomlinson's two scores were par for the course. Oakland TE Courtney Anderson had a pair of red-zone TD catches against the Patriots in the opener, and Carolina RB Stephen Davis scored on three 1-yard runs in the Panthers' 27-17 victory over New England in Week 2.

Tomlinson and Davis getting carries down near the goal line is nothing out of the ordinary. Still, surrendering multiple touchdowns from three different players this early in the season suggests that the Patriots might not be doing a good enough job of making defensive adjustments, thereby allowing opponents to target the same area over and over.

Atlanta poses a particularly tough problem on the ground with the combination of elusive RB Warrick Dunn (5.6-yard average) and bruising RB T.J. Duckett (a team-high four TDs). Already the Patriots have allowed five rushing touchdowns, compared to nine all of last year and 10 in 2003.

The Patriots also haven't forced an opponent to come away with no points inside the red zone, something they did 17 times last season.

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