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Patriots, Saints both have red-zone troubles

The Patriots’ offensive struggles have been well-documented, but the Saints, despite their 5-0 start and 134 points, have joined New England near the bottom of one key offensive category.

Both have had a difficult time converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Saints are 29th in the league at 42 percent (eight touchdowns in 19 drives that have reached the red zone). That’s better than the Patriots, who are 6 for 17 in red-zone touchdown percentage, for 35 percent. Only the Jaguars are worse.

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With almost an entirely new receiving fleet (and no Rob Gronkowski), the Patriots have been slow to find a combination that works. The Saints have almost everybody back on offense, though, so inexperience playing with each other can’t be an excuse.

“Certainly both teams want to be better in that area offensively,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Tom Brady’s frustrations with the Patriots’ offense — not limited to the red-zone problems — was evident.

“We’re always trying to go out and score points. That’s what we’re trying to do, and that’s what we get paid for,” Brady said. “Whoever is out there, whatever personnel, every play is designed to make positive yards, and a lot of them are designed to score touchdowns.

“But they don’t always do that, so we’re trying to figure out how to do that and do better than what we’ve done the first five weeks.”

Still a tall order

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is listed as 6 feet tall, but his lack of height hasn’t kept him from throwing for 1,722 yards. Projected over a full season, that has Brees on pace for 5,510 passing yards, which would break the NFL record of 5,476, held by . . . Brees.

But with defensive linemen at 6-5 (Chandler Jones) and 6-6 (Michael Buchanan), and linebackers such as Dont’a Hightower (6-3) and Brandon Spikes (6-2), there will be a good chance of using that height advantage over Brees and knocking some of his passes down at the line of scrimmage, right?

“You know what, he actually doesn’t get that many balls batted down like you would think he does,” said Jerod Mayo (6-1). “He does a great job of putting that loft on the ball that’s needed to get over the defensive line’s hands. We’re still going to try to get our hands up and block some balls, but it’s tough against him.”

Brees wouldn’t be considered swift, but he’s learned to position himself so he’s got an unimpeded view of his receiving target.

“He has some of the best footwork you’re going to see from a quarterback in the pocket,” Mayo said, “so he’s always finding the lane to throw the ball.”

Rooting interest

Brandon Bolden calls Baton Rouge, La., home, so he grew up rooting for the Saints. He went to games at the Superdome as a kid, and singled out Joe Horn and Aaron Brooks as his favorite ex-Saints.

For the record, since Bolden will be facing the Saints for the first time in a regular-season game, his childhood allegiance had its limits.

“I was a Saints fan, but I wasn’t that crazy. I was never a Saints player for Halloween,” said Bolden, who has rushed for 92 yards on 14 carries (6.6-yard average). “I don’t think it’ll be weird, especially having them in the preseason last year and having them up for practice. I got all those first-time-seeing-them jitters out of the way already.”

Forston added

The Patriots on Saturday released Andre Neblett, whom they had only signed on Wednesday, and replaced him on the roster by signing fellow defensive tackle Marcus Forston off the practice squad . . . The Saints have done most of their damage in the middle two quarters. They’ve outscored their five opponents, 78-24, in the second and third quarters.

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