When I watched film of Carolina’s 31-21 loss at New Orleans last week, I didn’t see the NFL’s sixth-ranked defense. Or its fourth-ranked run defense.
But I did see the NFL’s 27th-ranked red-zone defense.
The Saints ventured inside the red zone six times. Here’s how things went from there: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, missed field goal, field goal. Add it up, and Carolina is now allowing red zone touchdowns at a rate of 62.96 percent.
That’s particularly relevant heading into Sunday’s game against the Vikings at Bank of America Stadium. In their last 15 trips into the red zone, the Vikings have 12 touchdowns and two game-ending kneel downs.
Before we take a look at one of the Panthers’ red-zone touchdowns allowed, here are three other things that jumped out to me:
—Carolina, the team that surrendered two touchdowns off blocked punts in a 2014 loss at TCF Bank Stadium, looked sloppy again on special teams. The punter dropped a snap, giving the Saints the ball at the Carolina 31-yard line. Later, they muffed a punt, giving the Saints the ball at the Carolina 47 following a three-and-out.
—Former Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil had stretches where his protection was very strong. But the consistency still isn’t there. On one play, he committed two penalties AND got Cam Newton blasted to the turf after a rushed incompletion. The Saints declined Kalil’s holding penalty and accepted the 15-yard facemask.
—Carolina’s fourth-ranked run defense had little to no answers for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara had 60 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries (6.7). Ingram broke a 72-yard run. And their combined yards from scrimmage: 248 on 34 touches (7.3).
Both of Kamara’s touchdowns came in the red zone. Both featured a fantastic broken tackle. On one of them, linebacker Shaq Thompson had a running start when he blasted Kamara at the 1-yard line. But he didn’t wrap up.
Now, let’s look at the third red-zone touchdown that Carolina allowed (pictured above) …
Third-and-8 at the Carolina 10-yard line, 8:00 left in the first half: Carolina plays more zone than a lot of teams. On this particular play, the Saints showed how it can be beaten.
New Orleans lined up five-wide with Kamara wide right and receiver Michael Thomas slot right. On the other side were receiver Brandon Coleman closest to the tackle, tight end Josh Hill to his left and receiver Ted Ginn wide.
At the snap, they all flood the end zone with straight-ahead routes. The Panthers had three corners playing off and the safeties split two-deep at the goal line. The two linebackers dropped to protect the end zone, while 315-pound nose tackle Kawann Short dropped to linebacker depth in an attempt to block Drew Brees’ passing angles even more.
That left three rushers and eight defenders in zone coverage reading Brees’ eyes. I had a flashback to watching the Gophers try something similar back when Drew was a young pup at Purdue.
Brees looks left first and then throws right as Thomas makes the zone-busting move that puts him in an open spot just long enough for Brees to hit him for the touchdown . Linebacker Thomas Davis and safety Mike Adams are there, but just not tight enough. And cornerback James Bradberry comes in late because he was responsible for Kamara in his zone to the outside.
The Panthers thought they had everything covered on the play. But, like a lot of their red-zone work this year, they came up short.