Red Alert...

Mike Petraglia
September 19, 2008 - 12:42 pm

Call them the longest yards. The last 20 yards before hitting paydirt in the end zone. The red area as Bill Belichick prefers to call it. It's where a quarterback and his offense has to be precise or settle for field goals attempts. And it's the part of the game that takes the most time to refine. Matt Cassel knows this. So do Belichick and Josh McDaniels. While Cassel managed the game well last week in the Meadowlands, the one thing every one agreed upon was the game wouldn't have been that close had the Patriots capitalized in the red zone. They had just one touchdown in five chances inside the 20 while holding the Jets to one score in three opportunities. The Patriots were also 6-for-14 on third downs. "One of the things we normally do on Friday is work on the red area, in the goal line, on those scoring plays [and] also, some general situational football," Belichick said on Friday. Belichick had a chance to watch that bizarre ending to the San Diego-Denver game last Sunday when Ed Hochuli temporarily lost his way (and Chargers fans would say his wits) and blew an inadvertent whistle, giving Jake Cutler and Denver two more shots at the end of the game in the red zone. "We have all seen here, in the first two weeks, a lot of the highlight plays that have come up on that. San Diego has had two end of the game plays - the Carolina game and last week against Denver with the touchdown and the two-point play," Belichick said. "So plays like that where the whole 59 minutes and 58 seconds comes down to one play. Those are the kinds of things that we will do on Friday and talk about some of the other things that are going on in the league. "Certainly, Miami has defensively done an excellent job on the goal line," Belichick continued. "They turn the ball over against Jacksonville and knocked another one loose against Arizona. They play good goal line and red area defense on film through the six games that we have seen them on." Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels feels that 20 percent conversion ratio will improve with experience. "I think the speed of the game and sometimes the types of coverages that are used in the red area or on third down - you might see more zone defense on early downs," McDaniels said. "As soon as it gets to a third down or red area situation, they need to get tighter on the coverage on the defensive end so the windows are smaller for us [so] we have less room for error and we have to be quick with our decisions." Cassel sees a lot of similarities between third down and converting on red zone chances. Meanwhile, McDaniels said that despite taking a good licking on his right knee in the first half last Sunday, Cassel is still comfortable back in the pocket and that the hit he took actually indicated to Cassel that he's game-ready. "He told me last week that as soon as he got popped pretty good early in the game it reminded him that that is the way it is going to go," McDaniels said. "That actually makes you feel probably more comfortable as a quarterback once you get hit. If you go too long without getting hit in the pocket or the passing game then I think you get into a false sense of what is really going to happen. Just getting out there and getting banged around a little bit like he did is part of the process. He felt more comfortable once he got hit the first time."