Patriots defense has made strides in red zone in last two victories

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the most encouraging aspects of the last two games for the New England Patriots defense has been in the red zone.

After opening the season by surrendering eight touchdowns in 10 opponent trips inside the 20-yard line, there has been more resistance against the Bengals (two touchdowns in four trips) and Steelers (one TD in four trips).

The result is that the last two weeks have moved the Patriots into a tie for 21st in the NFL in red-zone defense (measured by TD percentage). Two weeks ago, they were tied for 30th.

“Everything happens a little bit quicker, it gets a little bit tighter and the plays are a little more difficult to defend,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. “A big part of the red zone is going to be familiar with the schemes the offense runs and communication from us from a defensive standpoint. It’s extremely hard to do in this league. There are some really good players on the offensive side of the ball, and you can get into some matchup situations that you have to defend.

“For us, as we go through the season, we’re trying to improve every week in a lot of the situational football areas. And the red area is certainly one that we have a lot of improving to do.”

They’ve been doing that the last two weeks.

A few other key areas and where the Patriots rank in the NFL this season:

Turnover differential

This week: Tied-9th (9 takeaways, 6 giveaways)

Last week: Tied-6th (8 takeaways, 4 giveaways)

Points scored

This week: 10th (25.14 avg.)

Last week: 13th (24.83 avg.)

Points allowed

This week: 4th (15.2 avg.)

Last week: 2nd (15.1 avg.)

Third-down offense

This week: 6th (42 of 95, 44.2 percent)

Last week: 7th (35 of 83, 42.2 percent)

Third-down defense

This week: 21st (opponents 39 of 93, 41.9 percent)

Last week: 27th (opponents 34 of 77, 44.2 percent)

Red-zone offense

This week: Tied-7th (15 touchdowns, 23 trips)

Last week: 13th (12 touchdowns, 20 trips)

Red-zone defense

This week: 21st (11 touchdowns, 18 trips)

Last week: Tied-28th (10 touchdowns, 14 trips)