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Wilfork talks red-zone D, playing time

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was fitting that defensive lineman Vince Wilfork wore a bright red shirt to his Thursday news conference, because one of the main topics of discussion was red-zone defense.

Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe sparked the discussion by asking Wilfork how he views the team’s performance inside the 20, where the defense has held the opposition to 13 touchdowns in 24 trips. The Patriots’ red-zone ‘D’ ranks tied for 20th in the NFL (based on TD percentage) and is an area coach Bill Belichick cited as being improved from previous years.

“It’s like a goal-line stand,” Wilfork described of the defense’s mindset of a stop or hold inside the 20. “When it’s first-and-goal, we know it’s do-or-die for that series. Same thing when you get into the red area. You can win a lot of ballgames by playing well in the red area. I don’t care if a team runs up and down the field, if you’re able to play well in the red area, you’ll actually be OK.”

The Steelers enter Sunday’s game ranked 15th in the NFL in red-zone offense, with 11 touchdowns in 21 trips.

Wilfork touched on a few other topics of note:

1. Increased playing time. Wilfork is playing approximately 88 percent of the defensive snaps, which is up for the 60-65 percent range he played in 2009 and 2010. He explained that he always wants to be on the field (he joked that he'd play both ways if that was an option), but there are times when he does need to scale back during games. The question was asked how PUP players Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick might affect his playing time, and Wilfork directed the query to Bill Belichick, saying he has confidence in all his teammates.

2. Giving Love some love. Asked about second-year defensive lineman Kyle Love, Wilfork praised his work ethic and said his emergence is a credit to his approach.

3. Striking a balance against Roethlisberger. Wilfork highlighted the challenge of tackling Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He’s so big that it’s hard to bring him down, but at the same time, there is always the thought about drawing a roughing penalty for hanging on too long. Wilfork said Roethlisberger might be the only quarterback in the NFL who can have a defender wrapped around him and still throw it 30 yards.