Finish work needed

Patriots targeting red-zone problems

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / November 14, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - There has been so much for the Patriots to cover it seemed as if there weren’t enough days in the week for coach Bill Belichick.

Not only are the Patriots concerned with stopping a Peyton Manning-led offense, they are looking to get their inconsistent offense back to its productive ways.

“It’s funny, after last week this seems like a short week,’’ Belichick said. “It’s really not, of course, it’s a normal week, but after the bye week and the extra time we had for the Miami game, this one seems a little bit short. It’s going by quickly.

“The Colts are a tough team to prepare for. I think the players have really worked hard. They’ve put in a lot of time, a lot of extra time.’’

One area where the Patriots’ offense has been challenged is the red zone. The Patriots are getting touchdowns 44 percent of the time (15 of 34), which ranks 25th in the NFL.

Only the accurate foot of kicker Stephen Gostkowski has helped salvage drives. The Patriots have scored points on 88 percent of their red-zone drives (30 of 34).

With so many variables inside the 20, reaching the end zone can get complicated.

“Everything is tightened down, the safeties aren’t as deep, the receivers can’t run as deep routes, everything is more compact, tighter throws, a lot of things like that,’’ offensive lineman Logan Mankins said.

Earlier this season, the Patriots struggled in the red zone. Before the Patriots took on then-winless Tennessee and Tampa Bay, the lack of a big play was stumping the offense. The Patriots had not had a pass play of more than 36 yards or a run of more than 19 yards. But statistics and team confidence got a boost by the 59-0 blowout of the Titans and the 35-7 win over Tampa Bay.

However, red-zone struggles reappeared against Miami team last Sunday; the Patriots managed just one touchdown in four trips. Gostkowski converted three field goals to help the Patriots emerge with a 27-17 victory.

Quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged after the Dolphins game that red-zone efficiency remains a work in progress.

“It’s something we’ve been working on all year and some weeks it looks pretty good, and [last Sunday] we could have done a better job and we need to do a better job,’’ Brady said.

“We can’t just keep kicking field goals out there, as much as [Gostkowski] would like us to kick field goals. That’s not really what I’m too excited about.’’

The Patriots’ last four games against the Colts have been determined by 7 points or fewer, so missing out on touchdowns could prove crucial.

There might be an opening for the Patriots to take advantage of the Indianapolis defense. The Colts allow touchdowns 53 percent of the time in the red zone.

Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson said play-calling and execution are the simple solutions, but a opponent’s defense also has to be considered.

“A lot of times there are good plays that are called and we just don’t execute it well or plays could have been called better and we did execute them well but the defense just didn’t allow it,’’ Watson said.

“You have to realize these are some good defenses that we’ve played against so everything isn’t going to be 100 percent touchdowns all the time, but your goal is that you call good plays and you execute those good plays well and better than they can call a defense.’’

The only Patriots’ touchdown inside the 20 against Miami came on Laurence Maroney’s 1-yard run. He said there’s no need to shake up the options.

“You basically do what you do better,’’ Maroney said. “We aren’t really trying to do too many things new.’’

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