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Defensive tackles take load off Luke

Posted Oct 20, 2013

CHARLOTTE – The NFL's reigning tackles leader recorded just three stops Sunday.

A pair of rookie teammates recorded four tackles for loss.

What's wrong with this picture?

Absolutely nothing.

"Hey, we won," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said following Sunday's 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams. "That's all that matters."

Kuechly was quiet in large part because defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei were making plenty of noise.

Short dropped Rams running back Zac Stacy for a loss twice in three plays on St. Louis' second possession of the game. Lotulelei twice threw Stacy for losses later in the game.

"I was very impressed with our guys up there today," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Those two young guys are really coming along, and because of that you see that Luke Kuechly isn't making as many plays.

"It's to Luke's detriment but to our benefit. I believe Luke would take that any day of the week."

Thanks to the push at the point of attack, the Panthers' run defense outdid even itself. The Rams arrived at Bank of America Stadium on a two-game winning streak powered by the running game, but a Carolina defense that ranked fourth against the run at 88.8 yards per game allowed just 63.

"We were ready for them," Short said. "We watched film all week, and Chuck (defensive end Charles Johnson) and the other guys kept emphasizing, ‘We've got to stop the run. We've got to stop the run.'

"That helped the guys in the back."

Guys like Kuechly, who entered the game averaging 11 tackles after leading the league in tackles as a rookie in 2012.

"Luke said something about it on the sideline, but it was just all fun and games," Short said. "He was just saying, ‘I don't have many tackles. You guys are really stopping them.' He told us to just keep it up. He just kept encouraging us, and that gave us a boost. That gave us confidence."

Short and Lotulelei were without the veteran leadership of Dwan Edwards for the fourth consecutive game. Edwards returned to practice late last week from a hamstring injury but wasn't ready to return to game action.

Veteran Colin Cole continued to be a steadying presence in Edwards' absence, recording a sack, and defensive end Greg Hardy moved to the middle to lend a hand on occasion with both Edwards and Sione Fua inactive.

Their efforts left Kuechly seemingly inactive at times.

"They were hogging them all. Kawann and Star were killing it," Kuechly said. "They were in the backfield just about every play, so it didn't seem like there was a whole lot going on for us in the back end. That's a good thing."