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Ron Rivera and Luke Kuechly talk about Sunday night's matchup

Carolina Panther coach Ron Rivera and linebacker Luke Kuechly spoke with New Orleans media via conference call on Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
Conference Call with New Orleans Media
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I'm assuming your team is still preparing for a potent Saints offense despite what you saw against Seattle.

"Yeah without a doubt. Believe me, that was a little set of circumstances I think and a little bit about the playing environment. Most certainly though, because last I looked, there's still Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles and Marques Colston. This is a good football team, so sometimes strange things happen."

Defensively, your team is playing top-notch. How well do you think your matchup against the Saints will go considering that you have faced them a lot before and are somewhat familiar with their weapons?

"Yeah but still, you do match up against individual players, but a lot of it has to do with the execution. You'd love to catch them in an off-night again, most certainly, but you never know. It will come down to  the execution on both sides of the ball."

For your team, was there a singular time or event where everything just kind of flipped? Or did it just gel over a period of time and this is where you guys are right now?

"I think it has gelled over a period of time. This team has gone through a lot, not just since I've been here, but before I got here. Struggling the way we had the two previous seasons before I got here, the last two that we went through. I think it was just a matter of time. We were able to get the players that we were kind of looking for, the type of players. I think we've had three really good draft classes. We've done well in free agency and those guys are now kind of coming to fruition. Our quarterback has to learn and grow. I think expectations in this league are so out of whack because so many people are having success right away that they expect it constantly. That's just not the way it is. It's hard to win in this league and to win consistently like you have in New Orleans, that's where you want to get to. You want to get to that point where it's not one year up, one year down, it's four, five, six, seven years in a row."

Even though you won five out of your last six, one of them coming here in the season finale, there was a question mark about your return. How much did that set up this year?

"I don't know if it necessarily set up this year as much as it was all about this team continuing to grow and develop and getting the draft picks. If you don't have the players and you don't hit on your draft picks, it doesn't matter what you did the year before. That's going to be key, again not to look too far ahead, but next year. Going into the '14 season it will be the seam thing: how well we do in the draft and how well we do with free agency."

Do you have to go on a riverboat since your name is "Riverboat Ron" while you're in New Orleans?

"It's unbelievable. This thing has taken on a mind of its own. It's kind of gone all over the place and it's one of those things that the moniker is what it is as far as trying to describe some of the decisions I've made. I kind of look at what I've done as just calculating it. But I will say this: my wife and I are going to try to figure out a way to use it to help benefit some of these charities out here that we work with. We've got to just keep rolling with it I guess."

What was the key to your defense coming on like it has this year?

"Well, we finished 10th last season. We started the season off at around 28th I think it was and we finished 10th. We had an opportunity to be better, and this year I think with some of the decisions we made in the draft, some of the free agents that have come through for us and our young guys playing well has really helped this team. I think that's a big part of why we've had our success. I think it was just the maturing of players within the scheme as well. I think last year it took a while (but) once these guys got a hold of the scheme and understood (it). When Sean McDermott and I got together, we talked about how we wanted to do things and the way we wanted to be and Sean ran with it and put it together and it has really worked out very very well for us. I think we have players that understand what we try to do with our defenses and it's just a matter of them growing as well."

Can you talk about Melvin White? He is an undrafted free agent that is starting for you now at cornerback.

"Well you know, Melvin has the physical tools and it's really just a matter of getting opportunities. He hadn't played corner for a long long time so he's still learning and growing, getting better and better in the position for us. He's got a little bit of a ways to go, but I think a lot of it is just that he has the physical tools, he's a smart young man who understands football, and I think that's why Melvin has had success."

Do you completely discount the two wins you guys had against the Saints last year as far as trying to stop their offense now that Sean Payton is back? I'm sure it has a different feel now than what you saw last year.

"Oh yeah, very much so, but I don't discount them because a win is a win in this league. It doesn't matter how you get it. A win is a win."

I mean as far as game planning.

"Yeah but I mean, again, I don't want to take anything away from what our guys accomplished last year, but this year is different. Sean is back and he really is one of the brightest minds in the NFL as far as offensive play-calling. I've had the fortune of coaching against him for a long time. When I was in Philadelphia, he was in New York and then he went to Dallas. Then I had to coach against him when I was in Chicago and he was at Dallas. And then when he became the Saints' head coach, it's the same thing. He's bright, he's one of the people that I really enjoy watching his team. I think he does a great job. It's not a lot of fun to go against him because it's hard. You've got to do your homework, you've got to study him, you've got to study his team and his players, and he makes it very difficult. He's a very cerebral football coach."

Why do you think the NFC South is so competitive and switched around so much from year-to-year?

"I think because of the players. I think there's a lot of talent in this division. I also think it has a lot to do with health. If you can stay healthy at the right time and you can keep players on the field at the right time, gel at the right time, then you've got a chance. You feel bad for what's happened to Atlanta because they're such a good football team. You look at some of the things that have happened in Tampa Bay – they lose their best running back and they struggled early, but they've shown flashes. Us this year, we've been – knock on wood – relatively healthy and have gotten healthy at the right time. There's a lot of good football players on these teams. I also think there's a lot of good quarterbacks in our division. We've got three veteran guys that are playing very well at times. I think Drew (Brees) is as good as anybody. Matt Ryan is a perennial Pro Bowl player. You've got our guy here (Cam Newton), and you see what they're doing in Tampa Bay with (Mike) Glennon, this young man is showing that he's got promise."

How much of it can be put on the general managers and the staffs for being able to find the right players in the offseason to make it swing so quickly?

"Well I think it's part of the whole team dynamic. It is about the general managers and their scouting departments going out to find players for the draft. It is those guys having to find the right fits for you in free agency and then during the season when you're in an emergency situation. If you lose a guy here, you've got to be able to bring somebody in and plug him in. We've had a little bit of success with that this year with our offensive line. We've had to bring a couple of guys in and plug them in and they've helped us. I think that's a big part of the success is not just about the players and the coaches, but it's about the people that go out and find these guys for you, that draft them and scout them and draft them."

You mentioned your guy Cam Newton and his development. What has the growth been with him this year?

"It's been great. I think early on in his career, he played on his true natural ability. He played to a degree of what we were doing. I think now he understands the opponent even more so he's been very efficient with the football (and) has made a lot of good decisions. At times he's managed the game and at times he's taken the games over. Again, it's staying and keeping him in his comfort level and the guys around him, the playmakers around him making plays when they've had to."

Do you think he pressed a little bit last year after his stellar rookie season?

"Without a doubt in my mind. He wants to be so successful, he really does. He works so hard at it too. I wish people could really see the type of person he is and the type of commitment he makes when he shows up. When he's here in the (meeting) room, the weight room, in the locker room or in the meeting rooms, it's been business. He gets out on the practice field, it's business. He really tries to do things the right way."

A lot of people saw that New England win as a 'coming of age victory,' improving from a 7-9 record last year. How would you view this upcoming game in that regard?

"This is the way I've approached it and I told our players this in the beginning. This is a very important game. There's a lot of significance in this game, but the reason it's very important is that it's the next game we play. That's been our approach. We try not to get ahead of it, we try not to diminish it, and we try not to overhype it. We try to make sure we focus on what it is which is the next game we play."

What do you think about having to play the Saints twice in three weeks? Did you kind of scratch your head when the schedule came out?

"No, because back in the day when I played, that used to happen a lot. I saw it, and I said 'Okay, huh. I've been through it before.' Really, I think the first one is very important because you most certainly want to get a leg up on the opponent and then see what happens as you get ready for the next one. It didn't surprise me because I've been through it before as both a player and a coach."

Are there unique challenges about getting your players focused when they are playing in the loud Superdome where the Saints are 6-0?

"Well there are. And I love this because one of the players, Thomas Davis, said today, 'Well it's really about what happens in between the lines, coach, at the end of the day.' I really like that attitude, so I think they get it and our players understand what we're going into. It is their home, so we'll see how it goes."

Carolina Panthers Linebacker Luke Kuechly
Conference Call with New Orleans Media
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Looking at the New Orleans performance offensively and what the Seahawks did to them, do you look at it as an anomaly or something that can be replicated?

"I think they didn't do what they wanted to do (on offense). That was pretty early. They got out of their run game early and the kind of team Seattle is, they jumped up on the Saints quick. They were down early. That puts you in a bad situation as an offense. That wasn't how they wanted to start the game, when the game is a little bit more even from the start, they can open it up a little bit more."

How much do you pay attention to that game in your preparation?

"You look at what they try to do. You look at that game and they didn't play as well as they wanted to on offense. They didn't throw the ball as well as they wanted to and didn't run the ball as well as they wanted to. You look at the season as a whole, it's not who they are as an offense."

Coach Rivera said the last time he looked at the Saints, they still have Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas and Marques Colston. Is that the way you look at it?

"Yes, that's probably the best way to say it. They have (Darren) Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Drew Brees. They have guys everywhere that can make plays. They just got down early and had to probably abandon some of what they wanted to do."

When asked about last year's surge and this year's surge, Coach Rivera said that they were two different circumstances. Can you discuss what the reasons have been for you teams jump to near the top of the NFL?

"I think on the defensive side of the ball, (Sean) McDermott has done a great job of in his third season getting guys comfortable. He calls games to our strengths and we picked up some guys in the offseason this year that have made a big impact for us."

Do you feel it's a confidence factor and that during the winning streak everything is coming together for your team?

"I think as the season goes on, we're more and more confident. The guys we picked up at the beginning of the year, we had to figure out kind of how each guy played. Now 10, 11, 12 games into the season, we're figuring out how guys play and have a good feel for each other out there."

During the surge last year, how much do you think it carried over to this year and helped? Did you come in with a different attitude because of it this year?

"I think it definitely helped us. It gave us from the offseason, it showed us what we are capable of doing. It's obviously ten times better to finish a season that way than losing four out of five. Winning four out of five shows where you are. Yes, you can get better, but I think we were in a good spot going into the offseason and we picked up some guys. It helped us quite a bit."

Do you feel like the success you are having this year is a prime example of why coaching staffs should get a little more patience?

"Yes, I think definitely. You need to give a coach a chance to get in, get his coaches in, get his guys in and get the system down. I don't think a coach should have a new system and expect guys to pick it up the first or second year. I think three or four years is the perfect window for a coach to come in, get his feet settled, get his guys in, get his message across. It's shown towards the end of last season and this season."

Based on that was training camp different this year because people had a better understanding of what they should be doing?

"Yes, there definitely was. In camp, at least I thought, we had a chance to be pretty good this year. The season didn't start how we wanted it to, but the games we did lose were a play here, play there and play here. It wasn't like we were getting blown out or smashed or anything like that. If we can tighten up in some situations and make a play here and there we can win some games (is the attitude)."

What has been the biggest factor in your defense's improvement the last seven or eight games of the season?

"We've done a good job of getting off the field on third down. The situations have been third and long, which makes everything easy. We've done a good job in the red zone and I think we've forced quite a few turnovers the last few weeks and the offense has been holding the ball a lot. When they hold the ball, it lets us rest. When we've been getting out there, we've forced turnovers and making plays in the red zone."

When you beat New England in prime time, did you enjoy that experience as it might be a similar experience with this game?

"Yes, our fans are great on Monday night. There was a ton of energy. It was loud. I don't think they sat down the whole game. It was exciting. I think guys will feel the same way this week. They're excited. It's a big game that everyone will be watching. It's the only game on TV. It's against the Saints, a division game and a good team. There's not a whole lot of motivation that you need in this game. It's Drew Brees and the Saints on Monday night. We're 9-3. They're 9-3. It's going to be an exciting game."

Do you see any symmetry in the fact that both teams were 7-9 last year and showed some flashes, but couldn't put it together enough to earn a playoff spot and then somehow both teams have come together this year tied for first leading into the last quarter of the regular season?

"They were kind of in the same boat as us last year. They were a good team with a good offense. They just needed to tighten some things up. A couple bounces didn't go their way. That's kind of how we were last year. This year they're moving the ball on offense. They're playing well on defense. I guess it is a little bit of the same."

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