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Quotes: Jay Gruden And Kirk Cousins (11.18.15)

Head Coach Jay Gruden

*Opening statement:*

"Did not participate was [Jason] Hatcher, knee. Limited was Keenan Robinson, shoulder; [Chris] Culliver, knee; D-Hall, toe; Trenton Robinson, hamstring, which was today, and then, Chris Baker, ankle and rib. Everybody else was full."

On the biggest challenge in facing Panthers QB Cam Newton:

"Well, it's a great challenge all across the board, you know, not only stopping the run for Jonathan Stewart who's a heck of a back, you've got a heck of a tight end in [Greg] Olsen, you've got great speed in Ted Ginn, but then you have a quarterback that cannot only keep the ball in the zone reads, but run between the tackles on the powers and the play-actions off of them. [Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator] Mike Shula is doing an outstanding job with that offense. Very tough to stop all across the board but you've got to be really gap-secure in your defense and you have got to be sound at the back end, like every week. But this week's a little bit different with the threat of him running the ball as often as he does — not only designed runs but the quarterback scrambles."

On Newton's ability to run for first downs, especially on third down:

"He can fall down and get two yards, you know, he's 6-foot-11 [laughter]… He's something to deal with now. He's playing — you know you can make a case for him for MVP right now. He's playing like it. He's gotten their team in great positions to win at the end of games. He's making plays in key situations — goal line, third down, like you say — so he's playing at a very high level."

On his level of optimism for LB Keenan Robinson's availability on Sunday:

"You know what? We'll just have to gauge it on a day-to-day basis like all these guys."

On the team's improvement on third downs this year:

"Well, I think when you convert on third downs, a lot of things have to happen. One, you have to be in makeable third downs. We have not been in a lot of third down and 10-plus. Last year, it seems like we were in three or four a game. This year, they are more in the third down and two to seven area, which we've been pretty good at. In order to convert those, you have to have good, solid protection and obviously the routes have got to be clean, receivers have got to make plays, but ultimately it's up to Kirk [Cousins] finding the open guy and delivering it on time and accurately. For the most part — knock on wood — we have been pretty good on third down. There is room for improvement there, but I've been happy with our progress in that area."

On if QB Kirk Cousins' improvement on third down will continue to happen naturally with experience:

"Yeah, you hope so. You hope so. With the level of comfort with the people around him, too, and the plays – the progressions, where to go with the football obviously, who's running what route, how he likes to throw it with anticipation. All that comes with experience — reading coverages, moving in the pocket — all that is experience-related and the more he gets, the better he should get."

On what makes it difficult to throw the ball against Carolina's defense:

"Well, they have two, excellent corners. [Josh] Norman is playing like a Pro Bowler, you know, maybe Defensive Player of the Year with his numbers, his ability to see the quarterback. Obviously, Peanut [Charles] Tillman is a very experienced guy back there, and then their linebackers can cover a lot of ground. Their pass rush is effective. They've got a great combination where they can mix in their man coverage with their zone coverage and play a lot of different kind of zones — variations off of it — keep a quarterback guessing. It gives their defensive line time to get home. They have enough*nuisance *blitzes to keep you honest and bring pressure, but for the most part, they have linebackers that can run and cover and they have excellent corners on the outside."

On if having QB Robert Griffin III on scout team can help the defense prepare for Newton:

"Yeah, a little bit. He's doing some of that, which is good, but, you know, to envision to emulate a guy that's 6-foot-6, 265 pounds is a little bit different. But with some of the zone-read packages, they've seen a little bit with Kirk [Cousins] and Robert. Then, obviously, Robert is excellent at that, so we will use him effectively in that area."

On offenses being afforded an extra blocker when a quarterback is able to run power-type plays:

"Well, that's it. Instead of having the quarterback hand the ball off, now he's a runner, you get an extra blocker in there, whether it's a running back or you read an end instead of blocking him. It just puts the numbers back in your favor, offensively. It's a simple math equation. They're very effective with what they do and they are very diverse in what they do in the running game. They are very sound in what they do. They can run a lot of powers with Jonathan Stewart — the read-options, the reverses. They do a little bit of everything. Like I've said, Mike Shula has done a great job there with calling plays and keeping teams off-balance, but those are the ones that get you, man, those quarterback runs. But Jonathan [Stewart], he's doing also very good with the ball in his hands."

On preparing the team to face an undefeated opponent on the road:

"It's a great challenge. You know, we haven't been very effective on the road this year. We go to the Giants; we laid an egg early. We played at the New York Jets and played a good first half and then laid an egg in the third quarter. Obviously, New England, we didn't play our best football there. We have a lot of games that we can look back on and say, 'Why did this happen on the road?' But we have to treat this as another game. We're a developing football team. We're a different football team than we were two weeks ago. We are a different team than we were Sunday. So, we've just got to continue to develop and do what we do best and have the confidence that we can show up and play good on the road. That's the biggest thing."

On keeping the defensive momentum going after holding New Orleans to 14 points:

"Yeah, you've just got to keep going, keep flying to the football. You know, they had 14 points with 9:52 to go in the second quarter, so a shutout of the New Orleans Saints' offense with that caliber of offense and quarterback and offensive scheme there, it says a lot about our defense and how far they've come and how far they've still got to go but we're happy with their progression. Now it's just a matter of following it up, making sure we're good, sound fundamentally tackling and fundamentally sound in the secondary and just continue to fly around to the ball. I thought our pursuit was outstanding against New Orleans. They hit us on a couple screens but they were not huge plays because of our back-side pursuit, our front-side pursuit. Our tackling was sound, also. That's something that we have to maintain on a week-to-week basis for us to have a chance." 

On if he noticed a difference in the team's confidence level going out to practice today:

"A little bit. You know, it's starting to grow. The effort was great today — had even a couple little skirmishes out there, which is good to see every now and then – but the intensity level is rising. You can see it — the confidence, the intensity, all that — which is good. We've got to keep that up. There is no room. There is no time for us to become stagnant in our approach or become lackadaisical when we go out to practice. Luckily so far, that hasn't been an issue."

On if the difference in the team over the past few weeks is mental and from having something to play for:

"A lot of that has to do with that. Then, when you have a game like you have against New Orleans, now expectation levels rise and how we handle it – the expectation levels for this football team and this organization – and understanding what it takes to win football games and then showing the proof on a Sunday afternoon. It's great to see, so now, the ability to keep that going, maintain that level that we expect and we demand. We'll have to wait and see how we do on Sunday, but anytime you play, we have so many young players playing, veterans even playing for the first time, you can just see us starting to jell a little bit more than we were two weeks ago, than we were last week. I think they're playing with more confidence, understanding schemes better, route concepts, blocking schemes, all that — just playing with a little bit more confidence and more knowledge of what they're doing, so now they can play faster."

On matching last season's win total and if it has made things easier for him this year:

"No, you know, every year is a different year, obviously. Every week is a different week. We're just trying to focus on Carolina, not look back at what happened last year. We're just trying to grow from a week-to-week basis and get better and better as the season progresses. We've got a different football team than we had last year — lot of different faces: rookies, veterans, different leadership. So our approach is different a little bit. Overall, man, I like where we're at, where we're going. Just a matter of building this thing, continue to try to find a consistent approach to our Sunday afternoons, and so far, 4-5 is not great, but it's in a good position where we're competing for the division title and, you know, now we still just have to go out and finish the last seven games."

On how he plans to keep his players level-headed if Newton begins to celebrate:

"We'll go through all that. Cam is an exciting player to watch. Sometimes, I like to tune in on the television to see what he does on end zone celebrations, to be honest with you, just as long as it's not against us. But we have to keep our heads, man. He will make some plays, you know, very similar to all the great players in the National Football League that you're facing on a week-to-week basis. Those guys are going to make a few plays, we just have to deal with them, play with class and go from there."

Quarterback Kirk Cousins

On winning NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season:

"I look back and I just feel like the performance was a reflection of the team. When you run the ball as well as we did, when the screen game works as well as it did, when guys are making plays after the catch and getting open and we're staying out of third-and-11s – I don't think we had a third down over seven yards – all of those things set you up to have success. Any results that turned into an award or a great statistical day are a reflection of the whole offense operating at a high level."

On his instructions to his agent about his contract situation:

"I really don't deal with it and just try to focus on playing the game. I've got enough to worry about with Carolina and every team after that. That consumes my focus."

On entering the season with uncertainty and now addressing questions about his future contract:

"Well, I think you're always progressing as a player in this league. You're always getting better every day you go out there. You hope to develop as a player and as a person. I think I've done that every season. I've been here every offseason and this year is no different along those lines."

On the difference in his ability to learn when he is starting consistently:

"Yeah, I think the difference is the consistency and the fact that they were together. I think it's a much different routine and a much different rhythm than when those starts are coming at sporadic times that are unpredictable. You're able to build a rapport with your teammates and with the offense, with the coaching staff, with the system – and it lends itself well to developing much more quickly than when those starts are sporadic over a longer period of time."

On the challenges in winning on the road:

"I think noise is a difference as far as our mechanics as an offense. We're going to be able to have a little bit better command when you're at home and don't have to deal with the noise. The noise is something you expect and you have to operate well in it. We've played really good football teams on the road too. Not a lot of people go into Foxborough and win or go into some of these tougher environments. So you consider the opponent a little bit as well whether it's at a neutral site, home or away."

On if he wants to spend the rest of his career in Washington:

"I appreciate the question, but I feel like it's best for me to just focus on week-to-week and understanding that in this league things change and happen so fast that I've gotten myself in trouble when I start to think I can look down the road and predict things. I just take it one week at a time, one day at a time. I've learned to handle it that way because when you look any further than that you're going to get all kinds of things that you're never may have expected. My focus is on Carolina, and I appreciate the question but I think it's best to just leave it at that."

On if WR DeSean Jackson and the running game lightened the load on him last week:

"It lightened the load. I felt like it did, to answer your question. Yeah, it makes a difference."

On being attentive to Panthers CB Josh Norman:

"You definitely need to be aware of great players like that, understand where they are, try to study them the best you can through film as to what their style of play is. He's been very, very productive. I had the opportunity to train with him going into the draft and he came from Coastal Carolina, and although it wasn't like people were labeling him as a first-round pick back then, when we would go out and do one-on-ones and throw with the DBs out there, you could see the ability. Very physical, good size and he had the mentality of a corner, which is confidence and swagger and an ability to be out there on an island and never question or doubt himself. I respected him back then and I guess in that sense his success has been no surprise. He'll be a great challenge for me and for our receivers to go against him. We're excited about that because we love going against the best."

On the importance of yards after catch in this offense:

"It's very important. We just feel like explosive plays, big plays, are very important in general to having a productive offense. It could be a two-yard completion that turns into a 25-yard gain that can be an explosive play. It doesn't have to be a throw that goes for 25 yards. It could be a run, we could run a handoff to Matt Jones, Chris Thompson or Alfred Morris and the ball goes for 25 yards, that's an explosive play. However we can find ways to get those explosive plays is crucial to our success as an offense. Yards after catch is a big way to find explosive plays."

On if there is a specific point when he has been able to notice his development:

"I think it's [my] fundamentals are much better, I feel like I'm a more polished quarterback – a more polished player, more mature player. That is in all phases, whether it's the fundamentals, the decision making, the recognition of defenses, and that comes with time. And that's no surprise. I mean, if you start and play long enough in this league, you expect that to happen. And the exciting part is it makes you a much better quarterback, and you say, 'If I can have that kind of a growth in nine weeks or in one year,' you're excited about, 'Man, what could happen if I could play for several years in a row and continue to grow?' That's where you start to get excited and really want to commit to working and developing to see what could happen."

On the change in the team's practices right now compared to previous seasons:

"I mean, I've seen it done several different ways. I remember my rookie year, several weeks at the end of the year we just had walkthroughs and only one day of the week we had practice. Even when we did, it was more relaxed and we had a seven-game winning streak and won the division. So I've seen that work, and I've seen having a spirited practice at the end of the season that was very physical and very competitive lead to a win as well. There's different ways of doing things, but I like the fact that we've had some competitive periods and guys are coming out to practice engaged and locked in and having an edge to them. I think all of that lends itself well to having a good performance on Sunday."

On spending time with his father, Don, following the game last week:

"It was good to enjoy a win and have family in town. Hadn't spent as much time with him specifically in the last couple of months. Great opportunity to be together with family, and we don't get that much downtime. I mean, when you're playing and in this in-season routine, you're go, go, go. So Sunday night is a great time to just relax and enjoy family time."

On how frequently he has been able to speak with his father this season:

"It's been good to be able to just call him and we can still stay in touch over the phone and he's able to watch all the games from a distance. I think he's got the game on his computer wherever he is and then he'll put in the radio of [Chris] Cooley because he wants to hear Cooley call the game. He figured out how to sync it up so they're on the same time. I can only imagine him sitting there staring at his laptop with his headset in and just living and dying with every play. My dad and mom, that's a tough job to be – the parents of the starting quarterback. That can be very, very tough and  they handle it well.

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