Breaking Down Panthers Red Zone Defense

Tampa Bay moved the ball seemingly at will for much of Sunday's game at Carolina. The Bucs rolled up 469 yards of offense, including 315 passing, 22 first downs and 13 plays of 15 yards or more.

Yet Tampa scored only 6 points. That's because Carolina's defense was clutch and opportunistic. The Panthers picked off five Josh Freeman passes and stuffed 10 of 14 third-down attempts, as well as 1 of 2 fourth-down attempts. The Bucs had the ball at the Panthers 20 or closer six times. but the Panthers prevented Tampa touchdowns each time.

Here is an inside look at the key play that stalled each of those six drives, and allowed the Panthers to win despite scoring just 16 points:

Situation: Third-and-1, ball on the Carolina 3. The Panthers led 10-0 with 14:20 to play in the second quarter.

Formations: Tampa lined up with one tailback and a fullback right, a tight end left, an H-back left and a receiver wide right. Carolina used four linemen with five other defenders in the box and a corner playing 5 yards off the receiver.

What happened: The H-back went in motion right and set behind the right tackle. The fullback, Chris Pressley, took the handoff and ran up the middle for no gain.

How it happened: Defensive end Julius Peppers fought off a block and tackled Pressley at the line of scrimmage.

The result: Tampa faced a fourth down and opted for a field goal, drawing within 10-3.


Situation: First-and-10, Carolina 20. 10-3 Panthers. 11:20 to play in second.

Formations: Tampa lined up in the shotgun with four receivers, two on each side, and a tight end left. Carolina used four linemen with two other defenders in the box and four defenders each a few yards off the receivers.

What happened: Tampa was rolling. The Bucs had picked off a Matt Moore pass and set up their offense at the Carolina 44. Two plays later Freeman connected with receiver Antonio Bryant for 20 yards, setting up this play. Freeman threw complete to Bryant for 3 yards. But Bucs tackle Jeremiah Trueblood hit corner Chris Gamble in the back after the whistle, drawing a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.

How it happened: Freeman pump faked left and threw a quick screen right towards Bryant, standing at the 20. Left defensive end Everette Brown read the play. As soon as Freeman threw to Bryant, Brown sprinted towards the receiver. He arrived in time to make a solo tackle on Bryant at the 17. Gamble had arrived to help with the tackle, but slowed up as the whistle sounded. Then Trueblood hit him from behind, knocking him onto the ground and drawing the flag.

The result: Tampa moved back to the 32, facing a second-and-22 after the penalty. The Bucs failed to pick up a first down and settled for another field goal, moving within 10-6.


Situation: First-and-10, Carolina 16. 10-6 Carolina. 4:12 to play in second.

Formations: Tampa lined up in I-formation with two receivers right and one receiver in the left slot. Carolina used a 4-3 with one corner in press coverage on the receiver in the left slot, and two other corners playing off the line.

What happened: Freeman had just moved the Bucs 64 yards in six plays to get back inside the red zone. But on this play Peppers and defensive end Tyler Brayton sacked Freeman for a 4-yard loss.

How it happened: Freeman dropped back and held the ball for a couple seconds. Peppers wore out the left tackle and hit Freeman, and Brayton finished him off at the 20 to complete the coverage sack.

The result: The Bucs faced a second-and-14. Cadillac Williams ran for 2 yards and Freeman missed an open Bryant in the end zone on third down, forcing Tampa to settle for another field goal attempt. This time Connor Barth missed, from 36 yards out.


Situation: First-and-goal, Carolina 4. 10-6 Carolina. 12:39 to play in third.

Formations: Tampa lined up in I-formation with two tight ends left and a receiver in the right slot. Carolina used six linemen with one corner in press coverage on the receiver and four other defenders in the box.

What happened: The Bucs had taken the second half kickoff and moved 68 yards in four plays, setting up this play. Linebacker Jon Beason intercepted a Freeman pass at the goal line and returned it 18 yards.

How it happened: Freeman faked a handoff to the tailback and had plenty of time to throw. Beason spied Freeman and hid behind the defensive line. Freeman threw over the middle for Bryant, who was double-covered in the end zone. Beason drifted backward and leaped to corral Freeman's pass at the goal line.

The result: The Bucs missed an opportunity to take the lead or at least attempt a chip shot field goal that would have draw them within 1 point.


Situation: First-and-10, Carolina 20. 13-6 Carolina. 4:25 to play in third.

Formations: Tampa lined up in shotgun with four receivers in the slots -- two on each side -- and one back. Carolina used a 4-3 with two corners in press coverage on the outside receivers.

What happened: Gamble had fumbled a Tampa punt, which the Bucs recovered to set up this play. Beason again picked off Freeman, this time returning the interception 18 yards to the Panthers 21.

How it happened: Freeman forced a deep slant for Bryant over the middle. Gamble had good coverage on Bryant and Beason was standing near the goal line in front of Bryant, in a deep zone. Yet Freeman threw the ball anyway and Beason picked it off.

The result: The Bucs blew another chance to chip into the Panthers lead.


Situation: Fourth-and-goal, Carolina 3. 13-6 Carolina. 10 minutes to play in fourth.

Formations: Tampa used shotgun, with two receivers on each side and one back. Carolina used four linemen with four other defenders in the box, two corners in press coverage on the outside receivers and a safety assigned to double-team the outside receiver to the left (Bryant).

What happened: Tampa had moved 80 yards in 14 plays, but the drive bogged down inside the 10. The Bucs passed up a field goal attempt and elected to go for the tie. But safety Chris Harris picked off Freeman in the end zone for a touchback.

How it happened: Bryant went in motion and set in the left slot. Two defenders followed him. The Panthers rushed four and one defender shadowed the back flaring left out of the backfield. Freeman had lots of time, but defensive tackle Damione Lewis eventually got up off the ground and pressured Freeman. That forced Freeman to throw the ball. He elected to throw for receiver Maurice Stovall, whom Harris was guarding, and Harris made the interception.

The result: For the sixth straight series in which Tampa had moved at least to the Carolina 20, the Bucs failed to score a touchdown. They still trailed by a touchdown. Carolina promptly drove inside the Bucs 20 and John Kasay kicked a field goal a few minutes later to give the Panthers a two-score lead.

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