With all the talk this week centered on injuries and the new faces in the Patriots locker room, one thing being overlooked is how poorly the Patriots defense has played in the red zone this season.
Bill Belichick addressed his team's struggles at keeping opposing offenses from scoring close to the goal line in his Friday press conference. "It's [red zone defense] not as good as it needs to be right now," Belichick said. "We need to do a better job in that area. Historically it has been a strength of ours but that hasn't been the case so far this season."
To say the Patriots defense has struggled in the red zone this year would be an understatement. After three games, opponents have scored every time they have been inside the Patriots 20-yard-line. Of the eight times offenses have penetrated the Patriots red zone, they have scored six touchdowns and two field goals. The Raiders scored two touchdowns, the Panthers three, and the Steelers one, to go along with two field goals.
Belichick said this kind of performance is out of the ordinary for the Patriots. "Usually we rank higher in not giving up points and big plays and lower in total yardage but this year it has kind of been reversed."
The Patriots better sure up their defensive problems in a hurry because the Chargers rank second in the AFC in red zone offense. San Diego has scored on 9 of 11 trips inside the twenty and that includes converting 81.8 percent of those possessions into touchdowns.
The Chargers are hard to defend down by the goal line because they have the league's most dangerous backs in LaDainian Tomlinson and one of the NFL's top tight ends in Antonio Gates. Gates, in particular, is tough to defend because his size makes him a tough matchup for opposing defenses. The duo scored a combined 31 touchdowns last season.
It will be important for the Patriots to try and take away those two options and force Chargers quarterback Drew Brees to look elsewhere or the team's red zone defense could continue to struggle on Sunday.
More musical chairs on the offensive line?
Some have speculated the team could possibly move right tackle Tom Ashworth to left tackle, replacing the injured Matt Light, and use rookie Nick Kaczur on the right side. Belichick wouldn't offer any insight to what the Patriots are going to do Sunday but he did say he would do whatever needs to be done for the team to be successful.
"It comes down to doing what is best for your football team," Belichick said. "Things may change from week to week, depending on who we are playing but ultimately the best players are the ones I want out there playing. I don't care what round they were drafted in, how much money they make or how long they have been in the league. If they give us the best chance to win, they will be out there"
Chargers-Patriots ConnectionsChargers General Manager A.J. Smith was a part-time scout with the Patriots from 1978-1980…Chargers special teams coach Steve Crosby coached special teams and tight ends for the Patriots in 1990…Chargers fullback Andrew Pinnock attended Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, Conn…Patriots running back Corey Dillon was a 34th-round pick of the San Diego Padres in the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft…Tim Dwight was part of a trade that sent him from the Falcons to the Chargers for the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. The Falcons selected Michael Vick with the selection and the Chargers took Tomlinson four picks later. Dwight spent four years in San Diego before joining the Patriots this season…Patriots backup quarterback Doug Flutie played for the Chargers from 2001-2004, starting 23 games for the Bolts…In 1994, the Chargers drafted Patriots safety Rodney Harrison in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. In nine seasons with the Chargers, Harrison intercepted 26 passes and recorded 21.5 sacks.
NotesThe Patriots are 10-1 in their last 11 meetings with the Chargers, including winning seven in a row at home. Although, when the two teams last met in 2002, the Chargers were victorious 21-14…The Patriots are averaging 300.3 passing yards per game this season, tops in the AFC…Deion Branch ranks second in the AFC to the Broncos Rod Smith in receptions with 21…Tomlinson leads the NFL with six touchdowns and has scored in 15 straight games. The NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown is 19, held by former Colts running back Lenny Moore.