The Patriots have done a lot of things better in 2010 than they did in 2009. From the looks of things, they've solved their road woes, their second half woes on offense, among other things. One aspect that has been overlooked has been the team's ability to finish drives off in the red zone.
In 2009, particularly early in the season, the Patriots would often get into the red zone, only to have drives stall and result in field goals. In 2010, the Patriots have turned that fortune around. So far this season, the Patriots have scored touchdowns on 61.4% of their red zone drives, up nearly 10% from last season. Thursday against the Lions, the Patriots scored touchdowns on four of five red zone possessions.
So what is the reason for this change in success?
Find out after the jump.
In my opinion, it all boils down to balance and versatility. Although the Patriots did have a solid run-pass touchdown balance in the red zone (14-12, respectively), the Patriots really only had one legitimate red zone option in the passing game: Randy Moss. Because of this, we would often see Tom Brady force passes to Moss, making the team one dimensional. The best example came from the Miami game last November, when Brady tried to force an end zone fade to Moss, only to have it intercepted by Vontae Davis. In the running game, the Patriots turned to Laurence Maroney later in the year. While he was solid near the goal line, his fumbling issues ultimately rendered his presence moot.
This year, since Randy Moss' departure, the team has been a lot more balanced in the red zone. This year, Tom Brady is completing 64.6% of his passes, over 58.2% last year. He has also thrown 16 touchdowns to ZERO interceptions, good for a staggering 111.4 rating. Last year, Tom Brady only had Randy Moss. This year, he has the option to throw to Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, or Deion Branch, among others. In short, Brady is finding the open receiver, rather than relying on a guy such as Randy Moss to go up and get the ball.
For the running game, let us simply compare the stats between 2009's Laurence Maroney and 2010's BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Maroney (2009): 43 carries, 117 yards, 2.7 YPC, 8 touchdowns, 2 fumbles
Green-Ellis (2010): 35 carries, 135 yards, 3.9 YPC, 9 touchdowns, 0 fumbles
As the stats show, Green-Ellis is clearly the more efficient runner near the goal line. Similar carries, more yards, more touchdowns, fewer mistakes.
Overall, the Patriots' red zone efficiency in 2010 is something that clearly shouldn't be overlooked, considering the team's struggles in that area in 2009. Currently, the team is ranked 5th in the league in red zone scoring efficiency. Over the last three games, the Patriots are turning nearly 70% of their red zone possessions into touchdowns.