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Stout red-zone defense helps power Bills winning streak

Football teams are expected to score points every time they’re in the red zone. The only question is whether they’ll get three points or seven.

But since field goals are thought to be a given from that area, red-zone efficiency grades offenses on the number of times they’re able score touchdowns from inside the 20, and it rewards defenses for forcing field goals.

That’s an area the Bills defense has excelled in this season, allowing touchdowns on just 37.5 percent of opponents’ red-zone trips. Only Seattle has a better rating.

“Field goals instead of touchdowns are the difference between wins and losses,” defensive end Jerel Worthy said. “Especially with the game today, a lot of teams aren’t that far off from being championship teams. The margin of error is very small.

“So if you can hold teams to field goals instead of touchdowns, that’s how you win games 21-17 or 21-20 or things of that nature. So at the end of the day, as long as we keep them out of the end zone, that’s our goal.”

Bills coach Rex Ryan said it’s “hard to put a finger on” why the Bills have been so successful at stopping teams inside the 20, but he has credited his brother Rob, the team’s assistant head coach/defense, for his work on red-zone preparation.

“I can tell you this,” Rex Ryan said, “we’re extremely prepared. We’re really prepared down there, our guys believe in what we do. We spend a great deal of time, a great deal of focus and attention to it, and you win a lot of games in those situations. We felt we had to drastically improve in the red zone and we made it a point of emphasis.”

The Bills ranked 24th in red-zone defense during Ryan’s first year with the Bills, giving up touchdowns on 60 percent on those drives. But they’re improved drastically this season, and it’s no coincidence their best red zone games have coincided with their winning streak.

The Bills forced field goals on their opponents’ first three red zone trips this year: Once in the Ravens game and twice in the first quarter against the Jets, before Ryan Fitzpatrick’s offense scored touchdowns on four of their next five trips.

But the Bills have been phenomenal in the red zone over their three-game winning streak, allowing touchdowns on only two of eight trips while forcing three turnovers. They held the Cardinals to one touchdown on three red-zone trips, forced a turnover on the Patriots only trip and held Todd Gurley and the Rams to field goals on three of four red-zone trips last Sunday.

“[Rob Ryan] comes to the players and asks us what we like, what we see, how can we play certain stuff to the best of our abilities, and that’s what they put in,” Worthy said. “Red zone defense is big, man. In this league, they can drive the ball as long as they want – if they don’t score, you always have an opportunity to win the game.

“From the offseason when we first got back to now, red-zone defense has been an emphasis for us, and guys have taken pride in it. You understand good offenses might drive you down to the 1-yard line, but if we can be stout and never let them cross that line, we’ll be successful.”

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