The following is a transcript of the conference call that Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera held with the Tampa Bay area media on Tuesday.
(On quarterback Cam Newton's improvement)
"I see his comfort level in what we're doing. He seems to be all over it, in terms of understanding the concepts and all the different things that we do as far as our offense is concerned. I think he's got a much better feel of what to expect, how people are attacking him and attacking us. And then, just his whole maturation – I think that's been another thing, too, that we've got to understand is that he is developing and he's still growing. He was a young man when he got drafted, and there's a lot of things that he's had to learn, and he's really come a long way."
(On Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon)
"He's got a great arm, he really does. He's got a lot of tools around him, a lot of weapons. I really do think that they have playmakers in play, and you've got to respect that. I think the strength of what they do is they run the ball well, and off of that, they've got great play-action. And any time you've got targets like [wide receivers Vincent] Jackson and [Mike] Williams, there's an opportunity to make something happen. I like their tight ends. I think they're good football players that help the quarterback. And the quarterback does a nice job getting the ball out."
(On adjustments to defending the run if Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin doesn't play)
"We'll see. I think [running backs] Brian Leonard and Mike James have done a nice job when they've gotten their opportunities coming in there. I thought those guys [have] run the ball hard. Again, Doug Martin is a tremendous football player and who knows? But, as far as we're concerned, we're gearing up for what they do. We know who they do it with, but we're going to gear up for what they do and we're going to work against the different things that they do. And again, it doesn't matter who runs the ball as far as that's concerned. [Head] Coach [Greg] Schiano's going to do what he wants to do, and I really, truly believe he's going to want to try to run the football, run play-action, and we'll go from there."
(On how the defensive line's play has affected linebacker Luke Kuechly's opportunity to make plays)
"Well, it depends. Last week, we played against a team that wanted to make sure that they blocked our linebackers, so they left our front four pretty much one-on-one, and we were able to win several of those. It took away Luke's ability to make a lot of plays. And then we've played other teams that stayed on the doubles a little bit longer and Luke was able to run sideline-to-sideline. I think, anytime you have a front four that can impact a team's offense, it really does impact the way your linebackers play. If they're making plays upfront, Luke's going to get an opportunity to make plays. And it's a good thing, it really is. It takes a lot of pressure off of him. It gives him an opportunity to really control and run things. He's done a great job, though. He really has. He's done a lot of good things for us, and really, with him, it's just getting the opportunities."
(On if it is important to establish a strong home field advantage)
"It is. You want to come home and establish that home is a hard place to play, it is a tough place to play. But, again, it is really about winning, and, first and foremost, you've got to be able to build your core, get your core established, and then go from there. That's what we've gone through the last three seasons. I took over a 2-14 team, and we've had to establish what our core is. Our first year, we went out and got our quarterback, our second year, we got our cornerstone to our defense, and then, now, we're starting to build our offensive and defensive lines. I think that's important. And then, obviously, you do want to win at home. You do want to establish that this is our base, this is where we play and we've got to defend it every opportunity we get."
(On if he felt a strong home field advantage was important during his playing career)
"Oh, yeah. From the time I started playing football – all the way from high school football, college, to the NFL – it was always about home. Coach Mike Ditka always used to have a saying, "Win the ones at home and split the other ones and you've got an opportunity to get in the playoffs every time." So, I always try to keep that [mindset] as I've gone through my coaching career, because there's a lot of truth to that. If you can defend home and split them [road games], you've got a chance to win 12 football games every year."
(On playing Thursday night games)
"It's tough. You just have to manage it. You've got to be able to manage it. The hard thing for us last year was it came off a very emotional win against the [New Orleans] Saints for us, and at the same time, we had some nasty weather, so our ability to have a good practice week was not very good. We were a young team trying to deal with that. We caught the [New York] Giants coming in – they were coming off the Super Bowl victory. It was an avalanche of things that really hit us. Hopefully, this time, we've been able to do things that are going to help us."
(On what has improved to increase the production of the running game)
"I think it's a combination. I think our backs have a real good handle and feel for how we want to run the ball. I think our offensive line has really stepped it up. I think these guys have really developed as a group and as a unit. I also think, with our passing game – some of the things that we do, with the speed we have at our wide receiver position – you can't always put eight in the box. You've got to honor our ability to get vertical, and, if not, we'll take those shots."
(On Tampa Bay's linebackers and their strengths)
"I'll tell you right now, I like their linebackers. I like Mason Foster, I think he's a solid football player, Dekoda Watson is a tough, physical guy, but I think Lavonte David is – he's a guy we had very high on our draft board as well, just so you guys know that. We think a lot of his ability. I like the front seven that Tampa Bay has as well. I think these guys have the opportunity to be a good group, I think the defensive backs, once they get an opportunity to work with each other as a group, they're going to be very formed as well. I think what Coach Schiano has done, they're building the defense, trying to establish the offensive line and that's an unfortunate thing with the offensive line right now but I think the direction you had – you establish your defense and you establish the toughest, who you want to be, you go out and you get a big physical offensive line, you put them over the front of your unit, run the ball. It's just a matter of time. They're going through a tough time, a tough stretch, which we get and we understand. We've gone through it too and hopefully it's a matter of time that things start to work."
(On would he trade any of his front seven for anyone in the league right now)
"No, I like our guys I really do. We've got a group of guys that our coaching staff has been able to develop a relationship with them. That group is young and developing at the tackle position, we've got two veteran guys that are mixed in with them that do a tremendous job, for us in [defensive tackles] Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards, working with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. I really like those four guys at tackle for us. Then our [defensive] ends [with] Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy being the anchors, mix that in with Frank Alexander and Mario Addison and Wes Horton. Those guys are good, young solid guys that are developing and it's just a matter of time I think before we can sit there and say 'Hey we've got a group that's as good, if not better, than anybody else in the league,' to so it's a matter of time. We're at a point where we're getting ready to take another step and we've got to just keep working hard."
(On whether he is surprised that Tampa Bay is 0-6)
"No because it's hard to win in this league. You go and you watch the games they play and they've played some good football teams and they've lost some tough games. Believe me, I've gone through it, I know exactly how they feel. We've had a number of games – I've got this crazy record where I'm 4-12 or something like that in games lost in less than six points. It's hard, this is a difficult league. You can play great and have something crazy happen – you can have a ball bounce the wrong way, you can miss a kick, they can make a kick, they can make a great catch. They're a good football team, it's just a matter of time, they just keep pushing and keep working hard. That's the way it is in this league. I'm surprised their record isn't better, but I'm not surprised because it's a hard league. It's tough to win in the NFL."