Q: **As you look at this Panthers offense, what stands out to you as to where they provide you with the toughest challenges?
MP:Well, I mean obviously they have a number of different challenges that they do present. I think first and foremost you're going to start with the quarterback, Cam Newton, and his ability to really – the last several weeks – show that he can control the game, run the game from a standpoint of moving the ball in critical situations, converting third downs, converting in the red area. I think he's done a great job of obviously just presenting a threat from both a pass game and a run game standpoint, but also being able to allow the offense to work and allow the other players on the field to make plays, whether it's the running back situation – which, you know, all of those guys will contribute, [D'Angelo] Williams, [Mike] Tolbert, [Jonathan] Stewart, whoever is in there will obviously be able to get yardage – getting the ball out to their skill players. Steve Smith [is] obviously a huge playmaker for them, a great player in their system, great player in their offense, but really [Brandon] LaFell and Ted Ginn have also obviously been very productive too, and then really doing a great job of using the tight end, Greg Olsen, and his ability to become a target downfield, in the middle of the field [and] also in the red area. So I think really, from a standpoint of – from an offense in general, I think they're doing a great job of staying balanced in the run-pass game and really just providing threats across the board.
Q:You've already faced offenses that do multiple things like the Buffalo Bills with E.J. Manuel and the New York Jets with Geno Smith. With Cam Newton in his third year in the NFL, do you think this Carolina Panthers offense is the most multiple offense you've seen so far this year?
MP:I think every week presents different challenges and every team is different. I will certainly say that Carolina is very multiple in what they do, and within that they've done a great job of being very balanced. So, they'll run the ball and they'll throw the ball, they can threaten you downfield, they can get the ball out quick, whether it's the three-step passing game… They have great catch-and-run players on the perimeter if they want to throw the ball out and try to get some of their players out in space to be able to make some yardage there, and then obviously their ability to run the ball, both from the running back sets and also from the quarterback and the gun sets, where they can become very multiple in that situation. I think this is a very dangerous team that has done a great job of being able to move the ball methodically, control the game, and really kind of wear down their opponents.
Q:In talking about Aqib Talib, what does it mean to you as a defensive coordinator to have a player who you can match up with an offensive player and just say, 'You do your thing and the other 10 players will do their thing'?
MP:In regards to Talib, I will say obviously he's just done a tremendous job for us within our system and really kind of doing whatever it is, particular tasks that we're asking him to do, but it really carries over to everybody. I mean, I would say all of our guys obviously have to handle multiple roles and be in different positions on the field and really just – I think what they try to do in general is adapt to whatever the game plan is for that particular week, and try to go out and execute to the best of their ability, and certainly as a defense in general, the more players that we have that can be multiple and versatile in those roles, then the better we're going to be. So certainly Talib would be top of that list as someone that can handle a lot of different information, but I would really say that all of our players – I mean obviously Devin McCourty, Stephen Gregory and [Alfonzo] Dennard and [Kyle] Arrington and just all of those guys in general in the back end do a great job of handling the different challenges every week, as do the guys in the front. I think they're a group that works extremely hard to try to understand the concepts of what we're trying to do against an opponent and to try to go out and execute that every day in practice and then carry that over into game day.
Q:What are your thoughts on Duron Harmon and how he's done in his rookie season?
MP:Sure. I mean obviously all of those guys, and Duron in particular, have had to go out and play for us like we expect all of our guys that are active each week to go out and perform at a high level. I think he's really tried to understand what we're doing, especially from a full conceptual standpoint, and has shown some improvement in that area. I think certainly obviously he has a long way to go. There are some things that we make emphasis points of as a coaching staff that he needs to improve on and get better on, and that's what we're looking for every week, just like we are with every player. But certainly obviously did a nice job for us there, and obviously we're looking for improvement out of him going forward.
Q:How would you define the approach of Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula and the Carolina offense?
MP:Yeah, I mean obviously Coach Shula has done a great job with the offense he's continued to have in place. I would say they certainly do a great job week in week out. They will vary their game plans accordingly and really can change how they attack a defense, but in the same accord will keep it balanced throughout the game and have been able to keep it balanced throughout the season so that there's no real heavy tendencies there as far as if they're going to come out throwing the ball or running the ball. But I think certainly they're obviously trying to establish a physical, run-orientated offense, but there's a lot of creativity in the offense that I think goes maybe unnoticed initially. When you take a look at it, there's a lot of moving parts, a lot of flexibility within their offense. They have very good athletes across the board, even on the offensive line, so they're able to do a lot of multiple things. I think that's really what you've got to try to be able to handle, is going to be those different plays that maybe you haven't seen before that they're obviously going to scheme up and dial up each week, and then to be able to stop everything else that they've shown to date, so I think they're [doing] a great job as far as that's concerned. I think, like I said, they're trying to do a good job of staying balanced, and I really think between the run and maybe the throws downfield that they get, and then the catch-and-run plays that they get underneath, I think they're doing a great job of that.
Q:From a coaching standpoint, what are the keys to making sure everyone on the defense understands not only what but why all 11 guys have to do what they do so that you can pick up for one another when you have to move people around?
MP:Sure, I mean obviously I think that's a great question, and it's really an integral part of I think the game of football in general, when you have 11 guys out there all trying to work together to achieve the same goal, and when I say that I mean on every single play. I think when you take each individual play, you have to have 11 guys working in sync, being on the same page with each other, understanding how it all fits together. The parts that make up and encompass the whole piece really have to mesh in a certain way, otherwise that's when you have breakdowns in the scheme. So whether it's in the run game or the passing game, you need to understand how everyone fits so you can work off of each other, and then obviously understand that if there is a mistake, to be able to fix it on the field and hopefully fix it within the play itself, understanding that there's a missing piece here and this is how it would be compensated for to prevent, let's say, a mistake to turn into a bigger or worse situation. So I think when you try to teach it from the infantile stage, that's really where you want to start, and you've got to start with that holistic approach of understanding how all the pieces fit together, more so than just the individual part and obviously just rote memorization as far as 'This is what you do on this play' and 'This is what you do on this play.' You want to try to get it from a concept of, 'OK, this is how it all fits together. Now this is where you are and this is your part of the big picture, but understand these are all the pieces that fit around you and this is how they fit,' and I think if you can get them to understand from that point of view and that perspective, then I think it becomes easier to move your pieces within the puzzle, if that makes any sense. So I think that's kind of – you know, it's something you try to do at the very beginning when you're talking and fundamentally installing the different packages that we run, and certainly obviously we do that on a day-to-day and a week-to-week basis also. I think once you have that foundation, then the system can hopefully build on top of itself from there.