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Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Kuechly gets much-deserved respect

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here's a more detailed look at how the St. Louis Rams tried to neutralize Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on Sunday.

In case you missed it, the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was held to a career-low three tackles in Carolina's 30-15 victory. But it wasn't all about the linemen in front of him making plays.

Much of it had to do with a special scheme the Rams hadn't shown all season. It involved the linemen getting off their blocks on the defensive front quickly and going after Kuechly.

Let defensive coordinator Sean McDermott take it from here.

"What happened was they decided they weren't going to let Luke make a hundred tackles," McDermott said. "So they started going up to the second level to block Luke. Now [tackles Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Colin Cole] all have to make those plays, and they did."

Lotulelei had a career-best six tackles, two for losses. Short had three tackles, two for losses. Cole had two tackles, one for a loss.

The Rams ran the ball only 10 other times -- end Greg Hardy had four tackles on those -- so Kuechly didn't have many opportunities.

"They've got to pick their poison,'' McDermott said. "We've got tackles right now that are playing at a high level that can help us. They just made a point to go up and slip block and quick scoop to the second level and make sure Luke and Thomas [Davis] and Chase [Blackburn] aren't at the top of the stat chart as they are every week.''

Linebackers coach Al Holcomb noticed what the Rams were doing early, allowing the staff to explain to the tackles what was happening and make adjustments.

"If we're on a tandem block, or combo block, and one of us has to get to the second level to block another guy, they're going fast right now as opposed to waiting,'' McDermott explained. "They're going fast and then trying to make a one-on-one block at the first level, and that's where we were winning.''

That the Rams put so much emphasis on slowing Kuechly, who averaged 10.25 tackles a game a year ago, showed just how much they respected him.

McDermott said it's not totally unusual for teams to use that strategy.

"You saw it with the great ones,'' he said. "You guys talk to people. They're keeping an eye on Luke and I would, too.''

Kuechly didn't seem to mind, particularly since the Panthers won their second straight game and their third in four weeks to even their record at 3-3.

"All he cares about is winning,'' McDermott said. "As long as he's doing his job, which he was, that's all he cares about. He's not into stats and numbers. That's why he's such a joy to be around.''

Tipped: McDermott said safety Quintin Mikell tipped Sam Bradford's pass on the first play from scrimmage in Sunday's game, making it an easy interception for cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Munnerlyn returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, his fourth in five seasons.

Topped: McDermott and head coach Ron Rivera didn't want to put all the blame on cornerback Josh Thomas for two long completions, a 63-yarder that was called back because of a penalty and a 73-yarder that wasn't.

But clearly Thomas was at fault on the second one, and his susceptibility in pass protection makes one wonder if his playing time will be impacted moving forward.

Rivera simply said the best players will play.

Tapped: Rivera's forehead was dripping with sweat when he arrived for his postgame interview on Sunday, but not because of the temperature at Bank of America Stadium or the intensity from a game that had five personal fouls.

Rivera had the flu.

He's feeling much better after the win, though.