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Danger zone

Posted by David Sabino  September 23, 2013 12:55 PM

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ThompkEd2.jpgEdelman and Thompkins (center) have scored all four of the Patriots red zone touchdowns.

The natives were restless early in Sunday’s victory over the Bucs at Gillette, as Tampa Bay took an early lead and fans were getting that “here we go again” feeling against one of the NFL’s lower-tier teams. However Tom Brady, Kenbrell Thompkins & Co. righted the ship and by the final whistle everyone in attendance enjoyed a 20-point laugher.

Among the take homes from the game, besides the victory which kept the Pats among the league’s seven undefeated teams and in a tie for the lead in the AFC East with the upstart Dolphins, was that two Brady-to-Thompkins touchdown connections (and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal) bumped the Patriots out of the cellar in red zone points per game, and into 31st place, above only the pitiful Jacksonville Jaguars.

Only Green Bay and Seattle (14 times each) have been in the Red Zone more this season than Tom Brady’s 13 visits, however the Pats have produced only four touchdowns (and five field goals)—those two by Thompkins, and two more passes to Julian Edelman against the Bills—on those drives. That’s an average of 3.31 points per red zone invasion, barely ahead of the Jags and around half of the point production of the aforementioned Dolphins, the league leaders at 6.5 points per red zone incursion (seven touchdowns and a field goal on eight trips).

Twenty-seven NFL teams score on at least four of every five red zone excursions. The Pats scored on just three of five tries against Tampa Bay dropping their season average to 69.2%, also 31st in the league, obviously a far cry from where the Pats expect to find themselves in any ranking, let alone something as critical as red zone scoring. By contrast, Peyton Manning, who hosts the Raiders tonight, has produced the same number of touchdowns over two games...in just five attempts.

This can’t be sitting well in Foxboro as the Patriots had been one of the NFL’s most potent teams when it comes to scoring points in the Red Zone over the past few years. Last season the offense dominated inside their opponents’ 20 yard line, tallying points on an NFL-best 94.3% of their forays deep into enemy territory, scored touchdowns on 70% of those drives, also best in the league, leading to 49 touchdowns, 17 field goals, and a league-high 6.51 points per RZ raid. The year before that the average was 5.35 which placed third behind the Packers (5.42) and Lions (5.36).

The loss of two world-class tight ends and Shane Vereen’s wrist injury have been major factors in the decline, but every team has trials and tribulations to overcome. You can be sure that scoring deep in the opponents’ territory have been, and will continue to be, a point of emphasis as the season rolls on. To win games as the schedule gets considerably tougher, it has to.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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