Guregian: Red zone takeaways powering Patriots’ rise in defense

The Patriots have discovered the secret to success on defense. While they might not be dominant in the same way the Jaguars, Vikings and Ravens are, the Pats have something very much in common with the top-tier NFL defenses.

They’ve mastered the red zone.

The Patriots allow teams to advance into the money area easy enough, then are stingy from there. Currently, the defense is the league’s seventh-best inside the red zone in terms of keeping teams out of the end zone.

Looking a little further into the stats, the Pats also own the best total red zone scoring percentage, with points of any type occurring at a rate of 68.6 percent.

So the defense is winning the space game down close.

Given how atrocious the defense was during the first four games, when the Pats allowed an average of 32 points per game, that’s saying something.

Maybe the Pats still make some people nervous because opposing offenses are able to move the ball and gain plenty of yards. The Pats’ No. 28 total defense ranking (375.7 yards per game) is evidence of that, but when push comes to shove, they pass the eye test in the money zone.

Coach Bill Belichick talked about an improvement in tackling and fundamentals. But there’s a lot more involved in the red area, where the space closes in on opposing offenses. It’s situational football, and if you want to put a finger on why the Patriots defense has gotten better since Week 5 beyond clamping down on the breakdowns and miscommunication, look no further than the red zone.

“I think what happens in the red area is obviously there’s a huge sense of urgency,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “They’re closer, it’s condensed space, everything happens a little bit faster. So that standpoint of it needs to be at an extremely high level. Some of that comes with experience. Some of it comes just with being familiar in the situation and getting used to kind of being in those sort of situations that come up. Other times, again, these offenses are extremely difficult so that every week it’s something that is a problem, something that you’ve got to deal with and something that you’ve got to maybe problem solve as it comes up.”

In Sunday’s 23-3 win at Buffalo, the Pats were 2-for-2 in stopping the Bills from scoring in the red zone.

On the opening drive, the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor-led offense set itself up for a potential score on first-and-goal at the 6. Then the Pats threw up the roadblock.

As Taylor dropped…

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