It's called the red zone, but for the Buffalo Bills' defense it's been more like the Twilight Zone.
The Bills have struggled on defense most of the season, and their problems are magnified by their inability to stop teams in the red zone.
The red zone starts at the 20-yard line, and red-zone production is computed when a team has a first down at the 20 or closer.
When it comes to red-zone rankings, the Bills are just rank. They are next to last in the NFL in that all-important area.
Opponents have had 39 red-zone possessions and scored 28 touchdowns -- a conversion rate of 71.8 percent. The Bills also have given up nine field goals, which means teams are scoring 94.9 percent of the time inside Buffalo's 20.
That's not good news with the Miami Dolphins coming to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. The Dolphins have the second-best red-zone offense in the NFL with 28 touchdowns on 41 possessions (68.3 percent).
"It's been very frustrating," Bills linebacker Keith Newman said. "If you give up three instead of seven that's huge because it's a four-point swing. But when a team gets sevens, sevens and sevens, sooner or later they start to feel like, 'Hey, that defense can't stop us no matter what.' I think that's some of what we're going through right now. It's a bad situation."
How bad has the Bills' red-zone defense been? Last year, it allowed 30 touchdowns on 57 possessions, a 52.6 percent clip that ranked 18th in the league. Even the worst defense in the red zone last year -- the Indianapolis Colts -- did better than Buffalo is doing now. The Colts yielded 34 touchdowns on 57 possessions (59.6 percent).
This week, Bills coach Gregg Williams mentioned a number of reasons why his defense has struggled in the red zone. He also offered the best solution to the problem.
"The biggest thing is don't let them get down there to start with," Williams said.
If only it were that easy.
The fact the field is compressed inside the 20 and defenders have less ground to cover should make it easier to play defense.
But opposing offenses haven't had much trouble at all.
Teams haven't been discriminating in how they cross the goal line. The Bills have allowed 15 touchdown passes and 13 rushing TDs in the red zone.
The Bills have had numerous assignment breakdowns in the secondary. Their anemic pass rush (only two red-zone sacks) has given quarterbacks time to wait for receivers to get open.
There have been a number of missed tackles inside the 20, and teams have exploited the Bills' sometimes overaggressive defense with bootlegs, screen and draws.
Those errors have been most glaring during the Bills' current three-game losing streak. The New England Patriots (4 for 4), Kansas City Chiefs (2 for 2) and New York Jets (4 for 5) combined to score 10 touchdowns on 11 red-zone possessions.
"I think it comes down to us not executing," free safety Pierson Prioleau said. "You have to play with a greater sense of urgency down there. We know we have to keep teams out of the end zone. But when they get down there we've got to bow our necks and play that bend-but-don't-break defense."
Newman added that the defense could help itself by getting some takeaways before teams can put points on the board.
"If we can create some turnovers and short fields, the time of possessions will swing in our way because that means we're helping our offense stay on the field more than normal," he said. "The mistakes are killing us, and it's not just one guy. We've got to get it turned around this week."
How the Bills' defense ranks inside its 20-yard line:
1Tampa Bay 21 62 23.8
2Cleveland 41 141 34.1
3Miami 30 113 36.7
4Washington 42 170 38.1
5Baltimore 35 138 40.0
5Dallas 30 111 40.0
7St. Louis 32 135 43.8
8NY Giants 33 148 45.5
9 Chicago 39 177 46.2
9 Philadelphia 26 106 46.2
11Houston 35 155 48.6
12Seattle 41 177 51.2
13 Indianapolis 36 163 52.8
13Jacksonville 36 159 52.8
15San Diego 32 143 53.1
16Atlanta 30 147 53.3
17Kansas City 43 214 53.5
18New Orleans 39 190 53.8
19Green Bay 37 159 54.1
20Pittsburgh 29 142 55.2
21Cincinnati 41 200 56.1
22New York Jets 35 169 57.1
23Arizona 35 171 60.0
23Carolina 25 122 60.0
25Oakland 43 208 60.5
26San Francisco 36 186 61.1
27Minnesota 40 195 62.5
28Denver 30 162 66.7
29New England 38 193 68.4
30 Tennessee 32 172 68.8
31 Buffalo 39 223 71.8
32 Detroit 41 234 73.2
(doesn't include Thursday's games)