Red zone woes keep Panthers from extending win streak

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule has harped on the lack of red zone efficiency most of the 2020 NFL season, and his team's inability to run efficiently inside the 20 in particular has been a concern.

That issues won't change after Sunday's 23-16 loss to the Chicago Bears that snapped the Panthers' three-game winning streak.

That Carolina faced the NFL's top-ranked defense inside the red zone didn't help. The Bears were allowing opponents to score touchdowns 36.4% of the time.

The Panthers (3-3) made the Bears' defense look even better, particularly in the first half where they walked away from two drives inside the 5-yard line with field goals.

Perhaps the best play of those drives came on fourth-and-3 when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater drew Chicago offside when it appeared the Panthers had no intention of running a play. That gave Carolina first-and-goal from the 3 -- and it still couldn't capitalize to get points.

Again, the lack of a running game was detrimental for the Panthers, whose only rush of more than four yards on those two drives came on an eight-yard scramble by Bridgewater. The QB was forced to scramble on four of 12 red zone plays in the first half.

As efficient as Bridgewater has been passing, entering the league with a league-best 73.4 completion percentage, he was 0-for-3 on those drives.

Maybe the return of running back Christian McCaffrey from injured reserve, likely in the next couple of weeks, will help. Prior to Sunday, the Panthers passed 47% of the time in the red zone, ranking 22nd in the NFL. They had converted 31% of red zone plays, ranking 24th. That combined for an overall ranking of 27th in the red zone, which is not good enough to win consistently.

"I just thought it was a global issue offensively," Rhule said of all the mistakes the Panthers made.

Carolina's only touchdown in the red zone came thanks to a questionable pass interference call that set up a first down at the 1. Panthers running back Mike Davis scored on the next play.

Otherwise, the Panthers were dreadful inside the 20.

Rhule and his staff have been able to correct many mistakes week to week through this young season, but fixing the red zone woes has not been one of them and it will be a priority again.

QB Breakdown: Bridgewater was sacked on the game's second play. He threw an interception on the third. He scrambled four times on his next series. He was on the run for most of the game -- sacked four times -- taking him out of his comfort zone after going two straight games without a sack. His completion percentage took a hit (55.7), and he never got into a groove after playing so well the past three weeks. And with the game still in reach, Bridgewater missed a wide-open Moore around the Chicago 20-yard line with a clear path to the end zone. And then with one last chance to get the Panthers in position, he threw a pick.

Promising trend: There's nothing new here since rookie S/OLB Jeremy Chinn has been playing at a high level much of the season, but he's the real deal. He made a big knockdown of a third-down pass early in the third quarter and had an interception later in the period. He came into the game as the team's leading tackler and is making a case for being one of the top rookies in the NFL.