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Cleaning up red zone chances

Bills head coach Dick Jauron laid it out rather simply after Buffalo's last defeat at the hands of the Browns last Sunday when it came to the team's offensive production.

"We're not performing at a high enough level to win," said Jauron. "We moved the ball some in the first half and got the ball to Terrell (Owens), did some things, ran the ball pretty well. We're just not finishing. We're not finishing at all and clearly we're not scoring."

Unfortunately scoring has been a three-week problem for Buffalo's offense as they're responsible for all of 13 points the past three weeks, 20 if you want to credit them for setting up Brian Moorman's touchdown pass to Ryan Denney against New Orleans.

Where the problem appears to chiefly lie is in the red zone. Buffalo is tied for last in the league in red zone touchdown percentage, with the Bills successfully putting red zone possessions into the end zone just over 27 percent of the time (27.3%). They're tied with Cleveland and St. Louis for fewest red zone touchdowns with three. The Bills are also one of only three teams (KC, Stl.) without a rushing touchdown thus far this season.

The problem?

Negative plays.

Buffalo has had 37 total plays in the red zone through five games this season, and on more than a third of them (35.1%) they've had a negative result. Whether it's a penalty, loss of yardage, errant pass, sack or a turnover Buffalo has had far too many of them in the most crucial area of the field.

In fact on eight of their 11 red zone possessions this year they've had at least one negative play. Not surprisingly, on the remaining three red zone possessions where the Bills went without a negative play they scored two touchdowns and a field goal.

"We've got to eliminate a lot of the mistakes we've made," said Fred Jackson. "Mistakes generally have hurt us in the past few games. We have to take the onus upon ourselves and eliminate those errors and put ourselves in better situations especially when we get down there."

What's ironic is the most productive element of Buffalo's offense this season, the run game, is responsible for almost half of the negative plays in the red zone this season. Of the 13 negative plays in the red zone through five games six have been run plays that lost yardage including a fumble that resulted in a turnover.

"It seems like what teams are doing is they've been piling the box up," said Josh Reed, who has one of Buffalo's three red zone touchdowns. "And with the corners having less field to cover they feel the pressure is going to get to the quarterback before he can get anything off."

Loss of yardage on those run plays have put the Bills in poor down and distance situations forcing them to pass to keep the drive alive. That allows the opposing defense to bring pressure knowing it's a passing situation. Trent Edwards has three errant throws, an interception and has been sacked once in the red zone because of it.

"We need to take advantage of the weapons we have and we have to stay in that area," said Edwards. "We can't take sacks, we can't jump offsides, we can't turn the ball over down there and that's kind of what's been getting us right now."

Running in the red zone is crucial to successfully reaching the end zone and finishing a drive. With less field for the passing game to work with being able to get yards on the ground is important in keeping a defense honest and sending a message.

"Any time you can run a touchdown in and pound it against a defense it sets a tone early to let them know we're not afraid to do it," said Jackson. "And then they might bring somebody down (into the box) and that opens up the passing game down there. I just think it's something that myself and Marshawn (Lynch) want to focus on. It's an area where we want to start producing."

But production can't happen without opportunity and Buffalo needs to have significantly more than the 2.2 red zone possessions they're currently averaging per game.

Ultimately, the Bills will need to make the most of their red zone opportunities with scoring points becoming a larger issue with each passing week. And though they face an aggressive and creative defense this week in the Jets, they're determined to come up with answers.

"When you get to the red zone the defense can switch some things up on you," said Reed. "But you've got to have a greater sense of urgency when you get down there."

"That's one of the reasons we're not winning these past few weeks," said Edwards. "It's something we're going to try to fix this Sunday."

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