For the New Orleans Saints, it's not just one thing that's preventing the offense from scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
It's not 10, either.
But it only takes one miscommunication, penalty, sack or blown assignment to wreck the plan, and that reality reared its head again in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, and has been an all-too-present thorn for New Orleans, 3-3 entering Thursday's game against Jacksonville (4-2) in the Caesars Superdome.
The Saints are 7-for-19 in the red zone this season, a percentage (36.84) that's tied for 27th in the league. A week after converting 3 of 4 in the red zone in a 34-0 victory over New England, with the non-conversion being a kneel down in victory formation, New Orleans went without a touchdown on three red zone trips against the Texans.
Twice, the Saints failed to score at all – once on a missed 29-yard field goal attempt with 11:10 left while trailing 20-13, and once after turning over the ball on downs, with the same score, by failing to convert on fourth-and-4 from the Texans' 15-yard line with 4:37 left.
"I think it boils down to our ability to be able to execute," Coach Dennis Allen said Monday. "And by execution, I mean if we're getting to a certain check or getting to a certain play, making sure everybody understands exactly what they're all supposed to be doing so that we can go out and actually perform that job the proper way on the field. And that's a combination of we've got to do a better job coaching it, and we've got to do a better job of playing it.
"Every play that you go into a game offensively, there's very few plays that are just, here's the play call and this is what we're doing no matter what the defense does. Most of them have some sort of potential check, adjustment, based on what the defense is doing.
"And so, I think that communication has to be better. I think we've got to work on that with the coaching staff. I think the quarterbacks and receivers have to do a better job of making sure they're on the same page. But until we do that, we're going to continue to struggle down there in the red area. So that's got to get cleaned up."
Allen said it's far from being a player-only issue.
"When we say execution, we're not just saying, 'Players have to do better.' That's not at all what we're saying," he said. "We've got to do a better job of coaching it, because I think we have guys that want to do it right.
"If they're not, we've got to look at is the volume too much? Are we asking too much of a particular player? Are we coaching it the right way? And if we feel like we're doing all those things and we're still not getting the execution that we need, maybe it needs to be a different person doing that job. I think we've got to look at all of those things."
Quarterback Derek Carr had his most productive statistical game for the Saints (32 of 50 for 353 yards and a touchdown, with an interception), but said the Saints' total attention to detail has been a little off.
"For us as players, it takes a great deal of discipline to make sure that, yes, we may be running the same play, but a new defense presents different looks," Carr said. "When we break the huddle, 'What is my assignment versus that look? What is my assignment when the picture changes a little bit from what I saw in practice?' As a player, I just dive into my assignment and the discipline and the focus it takes to do it right. Even if it's not what we thought it would be.
"Whenever you hear the play call, when we break the huddle, what is your assignment and what have you been coached to do, and what have we talked about after that? So for me as a quarterback, what has (quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry) R.C. told me? What has he been telling me all week? What to expect on this look, and I just try to do that to the best of my ability. That's really what it comes down to, doing all the things right."
Offensively, the Saints did several things right between the 20-yard lines, accumulating 430 yards and 24 first downs, and converted 40 percent (6 of 15) on third down. But the red zone struggles were too much to overcome on offense.
Carr said communication wasn't as tidy as it needed to be Sunday.
"For sure, there was some miscommunication," he said. "There were some audibles that were done and we weren't on the same page. Until we get on the same page, there's going to be a sucky feeling.
"If it takes extra time studying, if it takes extra time with your coach, whatever it takes to make sure that when those situations come up we can just do the right things. We have the talent to do the right things, but we have to do the right things, even if the look may change."
Allen said the Saints have to keep grinding until they find solutions.
"I look defensively – a few years back, we weren't playing very good red zone defense," he said. "And we grinded our way through it and figured it out, and then we've been one of the better red zone defenses the last couple of years.
"I have all the confidence in the world that we'll put our thoughts together and put together a good plan and we'll get better in that area. Do we have to look at what we're doing, maybe how we're practicing it? There's a lot of things that go into that. But I think we will get better at that."