By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots have a problem to overcome this Sunday. The Minnesota Vikings red zone defense is No. 1 in the NFL entering the game. They’ve allowed touchdowns on just 43.2 percent of opponents’ appearances inside the 20-yard line.
Tom Brady and the Patriots, meanwhile, haven’t been at their usual level on offense in the red zone. They’re just 13th in the NFL in red zone TD percentage at 63.2 percent so far in 2018, despite finishing in the top-10 in every season since 2010.
So the Vikings red zone defense should give Brady some significant problems on Sunday, right? Well, that’s a maybe.
Brady has gone up against the NFL’s top-ranked red zone defense five times since 2014. The Patriots are 3-2 in those games, and the second loss came two weeks ago against the Titans, who ranked No. 1 in opposing red zone TD percentage entering that week.
Overall, Brady’s passer rating in those games has been 97.1 – not great but not terrible. The Tennessee game really hurt that mark, dropping him from 104.9 over the previous four. But more importantly, the Patriots’ red zone TD percentage in these five games has been at 58.8 percent.
That’s consistently a tick below their usual red zone rate entering the games. So Captain Obvious here telling you that the Vikings red zone defense should make it tougher than usual on the Patriots offense. That doesn’t mean it definitely will.
The Pats out-performed their red zone scoring rate entering those games on two occasions – and one of them was against the Titans. They made one trip into the red zone in that game, and they punched it in with James Develin. The other occasion came in 2016, when the Patriots went 3-for-4 against the Buffalo Bills in a 41-25 win.
Point of this exercise was to see how Brady and the Patriots offense has typically performed against the top-ranked red zone defense in the league, and the answer is they generally take a small step back. But it may surprise you that the step is small. Considering the Vikings’ personnel on defense and the Patriots’ unusual issues in the red area this season, you might think the difference will be large.
This game should be a time where the Patriots out-perform their red zone numbers to date, and there are intangible reasons for that which may annoy the stats people who enjoyed this exercise up to this point. They’re at home facing a team that just came off a big divisional win and is primed for a letdown. The Pats usually elevate themselves in December, and there’s not a ton of reason to believe they can’t do it again this year. Rob Gronkowski is healthy and looks to be regaining his form after a nice game against the Jets.
The numbers, however, tell you that the Patriots could perform a tick below their standard red zone rate to this point in the season. So it should shock precisely no one if they have a bit of trouble if and when they get down into that area.
Flip it around real quick, though. The Patriots have the 17th-ranked red zone defense (59.5 percent), and the Vikings are just 25th in red zone offense (51.4 percent). So if this game becomes a battle of the red zone defenses, it might actually favor the Patriots.
Conclusion: the Vikings red zone defense should make life hard for Brady and the Patriots, but not as hard as you might think. The mere fact that they’re No. 1 in that category doesn’t necessarily spell doom for Brady’s chances of finding the end zone. And there’s a good chance that it goes in the other direction.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.