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Red Zone Performance Will Be Key In Showdown with Green Bay Packers

via AP Images
It took longer than expected, but the New England Patriots did what they were supposed to do on Monday night, and that is beat the Buffalo Bills by multiple scores. Credit to the Bills defense. They took a page out of the Patriots playbook in allowing the New England offense to move up and down the field, only to tighten up in the red zone. In 4 trips to the red area, the Pats came away with field goals 3 times. 

Part of that was a result of the offensive line play. It wasn't a banner night for that group. They have been one of the strongest parts of the offense this year, not so much on Monday night. Though they only recorded one sack, the Bills were able to generate pressure early and make Brady uncomfortable all game. You could see it in some of the throws he made. 

Brady's internal clock was moving a tick faster Monday night, as he hurried many of his passes. Some were to avoid taking a hit, but others were due to his discomfort in the pocket. We've seen it plenty of times in Brady's career; if you can get pressure on him early, deliver a few hits, it starts to speed him up. He starts to dance a little bit. On the opening drive, he stood in and took a pretty good hit from Kyle Williams as he tried to connect with Josh Gordon downfield. That set the one.

The line play and red zone execution needs to improve this Sunday night. If New England goes 1 for 4 in the red zone against the Green Bay Packers, they will lose. When you play good competition, you have to finish drives with touchdowns, not field goals. However, Monday night's performance in Buffalo was an anomaly. The Patriots entered that game 7th in the league in red zone offense; scoring touchdowns just about 70% of the time. They simply had an off night.

These types of games happen, especially against divisional foes. We all remember the dud New England put up on Monday night in Miami last year. Buffalo hadn't hosted a MNF game in a decade, and it showed. The crowd was electric and the defense certainly fed off of that. The important thing is that the Pats emerged victorious.

As they return home this week, they'll need every bit of their own crowd's energy. The Pats find themselves in another prime time matchup, and the hype around this game will rival that of the Kansas City game. It's being billed as Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, but this game is going to come down to which defense can get a stop...at any point in the game.

Similar to the Sunday night shootout with the Chiefs, expect this game to come down to the final minutes. Therefore, any stop throughout the game will prove to be significant. Every red zone trip that ends in a field goal is important. Think of all of the Kansas City drives that ended without a touchdown in that first half a few weeks ago. They all turned out to be crucial given the 3 point margin of victory.

I expect this game to be just as electric and exciting as the Chiefs game. However, I don't expect as many points to be scored. While both offenses are potent, this game is going to be about ball control and time of possession. Whereas the Chiefs are a quick strike offense, these two teams are much more methodical. Sure, they both have big play capabilities, and can score quickly when necessary, but this will be about limiting possessions for the other quarterback. 

That's why red zone execution is going to be so important. The number of scoring opportunities are going to be limited. Both offenses are going to be able to move the ball; but it's going to come down to which team can finish off more of those opportunities in the endzone. Based on the numbers, the edge belongs to New England. While they're converting nearly 70% of their red zone trips into touchdowns, the Packers are converting about half of theirs. 

The last meeting between these two -- and the only time Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have faced off -- came in Green Bay back in the 2014-15 season. The game lived up to the billing as the Packers escaped with a 26-21 victory, in a game that came down to the final minutes. The Patriots possessed the ball just 8 times in that game -- not including a 1-play possession right before the half where Brady knelt on the ball. 

For comparison, the Patriots had 11 offensive possessions against the Chiefs in Week 6 earlier this year. As a matter of fact, they have had at least 10 offensive possessions in each game this season. The Patriots will be fortunate to possess the ball 10 times Sunday night. To get that many possessions, the defense will need to force some turnovers. With fewer possessions, every single one is going to be critical.

Green Bay enters this game off a loss, but it was certainly its best performance of the year. Had they not fumbled away a kickoff return, who knows how things would have ended. Rodgers would have had the ball in his hands with two minutes left, needing just a field goal. He's been lethal in those situations in his career.  

The Pats come in riding a five game winning streak and are a perfect 4-0 at home. If the Green Bay from last week shows up, fans will get their money's worth. If the team that needed miraculous comebacks against the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers shows up, it could be a long night for the Packers.

Sunday night's game will be one of the most watched games this season. It's a matchup we unfortunately don't get to see enough of. If the Packers would stop choking in the playoffs, we probably would see more of these over the years; but that hasn't been the case. Which Green Bay team shows up is uncertain. What is certain, is that both teams better show up in the red zone.

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