Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels call Carolina LB Luke Kuechly "second to none"
Carolina Panthers Photo
The Patriots face off against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday for the first time since 2013. While a lot has changed between the two sides since their last matchup, one stalwart has been Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Since entering the league in 2012, the first-round pick has led the league in tackles and made four All-Pro squads (3 first teams). Both Pats head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had some high praise for the linebacker ahead of the two teams' next matchup.
The Panthers team website quoted Belichick talking about Carolina's stars, with Kuechly front and center:
"He does everything well," Belichick said of Kuechly. "Very instinctive. Knows where a lot of plays are going either before they get there or very quickly after the ball's snapped. He's fast. He's got good range. Gets sideline-to-sideline. Makes a lot of plays in pursuit. Tackles well. Instinctive in pass coverage. Has a lot of interceptions. He has more interceptions and tackles than anybody.
He's productive against the run. He's productive against the pass. He's a good blitzer," Belichick continued. "He's a hard guy to block. He doesn't stay blocked even when he does get blocked. He's got a great motor, plays really hard. Plays with great effort."
"Gosh, he should be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year every year. The kind of production he's had over the last few years is really second to none."
If that praise wasn't enough, OC Josh McDaniels had some additional words to say about New England's toughest defensive matchup as well. Per MassLive:
"He's an exceptional player," McDaniels said. "The first thing I'd say is that I'm not sure we'll play against a better field general, a guy that has command over what they're doing on defense and obviously is well prepared. You can tell. It jumps out on the film that he's done his homework. He works extremely hard to be prepared for each opponent that they play...
He's probably the best pass game linebacker that we play because he's such an exceptional reader of the quarterback, he's got great hands and instincts," McDaniels said. "He understands route concepts. He's a tremendous player. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for this guy."
As McDaniels pointed out, Kuechly is one of Carolina's core pass defenders, and is widely regarded as one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. Though the play wasn't without controversy, he was the one defending Rob Gronkowski on New England's last-second incomplete pass to seal Carolina's win in 2013. But Kuechly has consistently impressed in the years afterwards as well: as Belichick pointed out, his 13 interceptions are the most by any linebacker since he entered the league.
The Boston College alum will certainly pose a challenge for the Pats on Sunday. With such uncharacteristically high praise, it's clear the team is taking him seriously ahead of the matchup.