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Ron Rivera, Luke Kuechly on Sunday's divisional matchup with the Saints

Transcripts of Panther Coach Ron Rivera and linebacker Luke Kuechly's conference call with New Orleans media on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2014

Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
Conference Call with New Orleans Media
Wednesday, December 03, 2014

In other divisions, teams from the NFC South might be looking toward next year. At this point everyone in the division with the exception of Tampa Bay is still in the race. How does that change how you look at the next four games?

"Well you look at them as an opportunity to go to the playoffs. That's the only thing. Again, believe me, whichever team gets into the playoffs there is going to be no apologies for it. That's part of the game. You play the game that you play, they fall the way they may. The other day, looking at the way New Orleans beat Pittsburgh, there is no apology needed. They played a very good football game against a good football team and they ended up winning. Believe me, I think New Orleans is a good football team, as I do Atlanta, and I think we're still a good football team."

A common line is "You are what you're record says you are." Is that the case with the Saints and some of the teams in this division?

"Yep. That's who they are. They've won five games, that's the team that they are. They're a good football team. We know who the players are, we know who their coach is, it's a good organization. You play those guys for who they are, who you know they are. Sure, their record says they have five wins, that's what they have."

Are they more dangerous than your typical five-win team?

"Yes, they really are. Again, the point is we know who they are. We know who their quarterback is. We know who their tight ends are, who their wide receivers, their running backs, their defense… This is a good football team. Five wins, that's what they are, they are a five-win football team. That's it. But the truth of the matter is if you take them lightly, you're going to get beat. And I'm not saying that's what Pittsburgh did, but they beat a very good football team in Pittsburgh."

What do you think about the way Pittsburgh defended Jimmy Graham? What do you think about how the Saints were able to respond to that?

"That's the thing about what they have in New Orleans is you try to take one guy away and the other guys are going to step up. And you saw it, you saw some of the big plays made by the wide receivers. You saw how they ran the ball effectively. Again, it's a well-balanced football team. They've had some crazy things happen, they've had some good things happen. Again, they've showed you why they're one of the better teams in the league. I know they've got five wins guys, and I'm not trying to downplay the fact that they have seven losses, but they're a good football team, believe me."

If there is such a thing as paying too much attention to Jimmy Graham, what's the right balance to defend a player who is uncommonly talented while not leaving other areas exposed?

"That's the fine line. You've got to be able to match up with the other guys. If you say you are going to take the tight end out of the game, and make everybody else beat you, if the other guys beat you than you didn't have good enough matchups. You've got to make sure your matchups are good, whether you are going to take away (Marques) Colston, whether you are going to take away Graham, or you are going to take away (Kenny) Stills, you've got to be able to balance the other side and say we can take this guy away if we double him but we match up well over here. You've got to be very careful, you've got to be very smart and you have to do it at the right times."

Is this a more balanced team than it has been in years past? Is it more difficult to defend with that balance?

"When they're running the ball effectively, for the most part, any offense is tough to defend. This one even more so because they do have good play action. The quarterback is very good with his play action, he's a very good vertical passer. You've got to be able to make them one-dimensional and force them to do something they really don't want. If you could do that then you have a chance. If not, now what you have to do is be able to react to what you see. Again, when they are running effectively, they are a good football team."

What is the morale like in your locker room? Has it been a challenge for you having this losing streak now and keeping your guys focused?

"It's tough. It's been a struggle. We've gone through some things that have been out of our control. We've tried to react the best we can. We've had some tough games, some tough losses, but that's the nature of the game. You play the schedule, you show up and do your job, you work hard. You're playing not just for the now, but going forward. And that's the truth of the matter. We've got four football games left this season. Who knows what happens in those four games, but if you win all four, guess what, you have a pretty good chance of being in the playoffs. That's the approach I've been trying to hammer into these guys and get them to understand. We're in this opportunity, now it's a matter of us taking advantage of it."

Carolina Panthers Linebacker Luke Kuechly
Conference Call with New Orleans Media
Wednesday, December 03, 2014

In almost any other division most teams in the NFC South would be looking ahead to next year. Is it a motivating factor, that even at your record, to still have a chance to win the division?

"Yeah, absolutely. It's one of those things that there is still opportunity at the end of the season for us. It's not like this season is over, there's no playoffs. The opportunity is still there for the majority of the teams in this division and it kind of makes it exciting. Each person in the division has to play the other teams in the division these last few games and it's going to make for an exciting end of the season."

What do you think about the way Pittsburgh covered Jimmy Graham and how the Saints responded to that?

"I actually haven't taken a peek at that game yet, that's on the to-watch list. I've watched some other things up to this point but that still remains to be watched for me."

The Saints are typically pretty dominant at home and have lost their last three home games. Do you feel like they're a little more vulnerable at home now?

"I wouldn't say vulnerable. I would just say some of the games that they played, some of them were close. If you look at the San Francisco game, that was a game that could have gone either way. For the majority of those other games they were in it just some things didn't go their way. I think they're still very good at home. Obviously they have something to play for, as do we, so it's not like it's going to be a different Saints team. They are still going to be ready to go. It's going to be exciting, it's going to be fun playing down there, it's going to be loud. We kind of know what to expect but they're definitely a good team at home."

With the way Mark Ingram has emerged, is it more difficult to defend the Saints this year because they are more balanced? How is it different this year than last year?

"I think Mark is doing a good job. I think he kind of has a niche. I think he knows what he's doing, he runs hard, he's physical. I think he's moving better this year than he did last. I don't know what it is but it looks like he has some more shake, some more burst, and this year I think he's done a great job for them."

Do you see more of a commitment to the run from the Saints as opposed to years past?

"The first game we played I think they gave (Mark) Ingram the ball about 30 times so I think that kind of shows in itself. I think they are confident in the run game with what they can do with the three or four guys they have back there. We'll see what happens."

What about their ability to run successfully out of pass formations? How tough does that make it on you as a linebacker?

"Well it's one of those things, you look at formations and if a team is leaning toward passing formation it kind of gives you a tip of the hand. But what they do a good job with is mixing up formations and not letting you get a feel of what they do, and you can't settle into something if you know they are 50-50 both ways."

Is it a risk to concentrate too much on one player, an elite pass-catcher like Jimmy Graham?

"I don't they're a team that has one guy. Obviously Jimmy is a great player but I think (Marques) Colston and (Kenny) Stills and those guys do a good job. I don't think you can concentrate on just Jimmy because Colston has a proven track record to catch a bunch of passes. I think Drew (Brees) and him have a very good understanding of each other. I think Stills is one of those guys that can burn you. He's got speed, he can catch the ball, he's explosive, and I think he does a good job for them too. It's not like you can just concentrate all of your guys on one guy because those two other guys do a good job for them as well."

There is a saying that you are what your record says. Are the Saints what their record indicates?

"I guess yes and no. That's a tough question to answer. I think they've got plenty of weapons on offense. They very well could have three or four more wins. But at the end of the day you are what your record is, kind of the same situation with us."

What do you remember about playing with Kasim Edebali and what do you remember about him and his path to the NFL?

"I think the one thing that Kasim is is a hard worker. I think that's been very well seen since that first day we were at BC (Boston College). He is one of those guys that is going to work hard, he's going to keep his mouth shut, he's going to do what he's told, and he loves playing football. I think that's what has gotten him to where he is now, his work ethic and his willingness to take coaching and a love for the game. He came over from Germany and he had to learn English and learn what football was. I think that's why he's been successful, through those things I said. He's a good dude, I like him a lot. He's always smiling, he's always happy and I think that goes a long way."

So he always had that same motor? You will see him chase down plays…

"Oh yeah, that's been him since the first day. He and I were in the same class at school so him and I played a lot of games together and he's been like that since he was at school."

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