The Carolina Panthers red zone offense was terrible in yesterday’s close loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Despite running 11 plays in the red zone, they were only able to muster five yards. So, is play calling to blame, or execution? To find out, I took another look at the Panthers second offensive drive, which resulted in a field goal, although they were given four opportunities to score a touchdown.
1-7-SEA 7 (:24) C.Newton pass short middle to J.Stewart to SEA 8 for -1 yards (K.Wright; T.McDaniel).
Panthers Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula calls a screen pass to Jonathan Stewart here.
There’s nothing wrong with calling that play – you want to get the ball in the hands of one of your best offensive weapons in space.
Here’s where the Panthers fail to execute. Rookie UDFA tackle David Foucault, who substituted in for an injured Nate Chandler, doesn’t block the Seahawk linebacker directly to his right. Instead, he targets another Seahawk defender further up the field.
The only problem is, Ryan Kalil is also going to block that defender. Both Kalil and Foucault are able to double team the Seahawk defender, but that double team is no good, because Stewart gets tackled for a loss of by the unblocked linebacker.
1-3-SEA 3 (15:00) (Shotgun) C.Newton right guard to SEA 3 for no gain (K.Wright; M.Smith).
The Panthers are running the inside zone read-option.
Cam Newton reads the unblocked edge defender, who crashes in on Stewart, so Cam keeps the football.
Unfortunately, the Panthers offensive line lets him down again. This time, center Ryan Kalil is unable to block the Seahawks middle linebacker, and tackle David Foucault is a little slow blocking the Seahawks outside linebacker.
As a result, Cam has to face two linebackers and a safety in space, instead of the original play design which would have left him one-on-one against the safety one yard out from the end zone -- a matchup Newton would win almost every single time.
2-3-SEA 3 (14:16) C.Newton pass incomplete short left to K.Benjamin.
I’m not going to cover this play, since we already know what happened and who is to blame. Cam threw an excellent ball to Benjamin, who inexplicably dropped it.
3-1-SEA 1 (14:11) J.Stewart right guard to SEA 8 for -7 yards (E.Thomas; T.McDaniel). Brian Folkerts reported as eligible
On third down, the Panthers choose to run a power run play with Jonathan Stewart at running back. Left guard Andrew Norwell will pull. To really emphasize “power”, the Panthers line up backup center Brian Folkerts as a third offensive tackle, beside David Foucault at right tackle.
However, as soon as the ball is snapped, Foucault loses the pad level battle and is immediately pushed back almost two yards by the defensive lineman.
Foucault getting pushed back means he gets in the way of a pulling Norwell, who has to now get around Foucault. As a result, Norwell isn’t able to get to his target on time.
Running back Jonathan Stewart also deserves some blame on this play. To the bottom of the frame, tight end Brandon Williams is able to get a solid block on the Seahawk defender. Instead of taking the run outside, Stewart cuts his run inside, and runs straight into a “pile of garbage”.
I think if Stewart went wide to the right, he would have had a much better chance of scoring the touchdown. By cutting inside, he lost yardage and forced the Panthers to kick a field goal on fourth and goal.
The Panthers lost to the Seahawks by four points. They also left four points on the board on this important drive. Was Mike Shula's play calling perfect? Probably not, as I would have liked to see Cam Newton on another quarterback sneak, or Greg Olsen being targeted on a pass play. However, the play calling was still good enough to get three Panthers players (Newton, Stewart and Benjamin) in positions to score four times, but they couldn’t due to the lack of execution.