The New England Patriots offense has been bad in the red zone. How bad? The team entered Week 14 tied with the Denver Broncos as the worst team in football in touchdown percentage inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Through their first 12 games, the Patriots have hit pay dirt on only 12 of 32 red area trips — a success rate of a mere 37.5 percent. And with the Broncos going 3-for-3 against Kansas City on Sunday, New England is now all alone in the 32nd rank in a league-wide comparison.
The good news is that their upcoming matchup against the Arizona Cardinals is a favorable one from that perspective.
The Cardinals defense has had problems across the board, ranking worst in the NFL in scoring and below the average in most significant statistical categories. Among them is the red zone, where Arizona has seemingly employed a bend-and-break approach: teams have scored 31 touchdowns on 45 opportunities, resulting in a TD rate of 68.9 percent.
Frankly, if the Patriots cannot fix their red zone issues against the Cardinals they probably never will. They definitely will not see another matchup quite as favorable down the stretch.
“As a whole, as a team, we just have to execute better,” said wide receivers coach Troy Brown last week. “Practice this stuff a little bit more and practice it a little bit harder, and try to get it right there and then try to transfer that over to the game — which is kind of the goal every week when we’re practicing in that part of the field. Obviously it’s been an issue, and we’re doing everything we can to fix it.”
The Patriots fixing the red zone scoring percentage would go a long way towards getting their struggling offense back on track. How they plan to do it remains to be seen, but as quarterback Mac Jones pointed out last month they need to find a way to “flip the switch” once down in this part of the field.
“Whenever you get to that spot it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s play our best football right here,’” he said. “Some teams it might be third-down flip the switch, but right now that’s our biggest area where we need to flip the switch and make something good happen. That’s the goal. It’s all about positive plays and just moving the ball forward. We’re going backwards too much, just in that spot. Once we do that we get through there and see where it takes us.”
The Patriots have not shown a lot of improvement in this area since Jones’ plea for a different approach, but with some extended time off — New England played its last game on December 1 — the hope is they figured something out. If not, their outlook is not too rosy even against a Cardinals team with its own red zone troubles so far this year.