The Carolina Panthers look to continue their undefeated season when they travel to Tennessee to face the Titans on Sunday.
The Panthers (8-0) enter coming off last week's 37-29 win over Green Bay. As the Panthers look to continue piling up wins, the team begins a favorable four-game stretch against opponents with a combined record of 11-22.
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The Titans (2-6) broke a six-game losing streak last week with a 34-28 overtime victory in Mike Mularkey's first game as interim head coach. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sprained MCL and tossed four touchdowns. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Panthers and the Titans.
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1. Get Greg Olsen going early and often
While the Titans have been a strong defensive team in many areas, one area they've struggled has been against opposing tight ends. This year, Tennessee has allowed 35 receptions for 424 yards and six scores to the position, which sets up great for Olsen. While he's been the go-to option for Cam Newton in the passing game this year, expect the talented tight end to get plenty of looks Sunday.
2. Focus on shutting down Mariota, and make Antonio Andrews beat you
While the Panthers should be able to get pressure on Mariota, the real wild card here is Andrews. During his first run as the workhorse running back, Andrews rushed 19 times for 88 yards and looked strong throughout the game. In turn, this allowed Mariota to open up the field and have a stellar game, throwing four touchdowns against zero interceptions. While Andrews may be the real deal, the Panthers need to find out if that's the case, but their focus should absolutely remain on Mariota.
3. Put Josh Norman on Dorial Green-Beckham
Green-Beckham has flown under the radar a bit to this point, but the massive breakout is coming, it's going to be hard to avoid. He's had mixed results throughout his rookie season, but his best game came in Week 9 against the New Orleans Saints, as he caught five balls for 77 yards on 10 targets. Green-Beckham is the most talented receiver on Tennessee's roster, and he should receive Norman treatment on Sunday.
1. Keep Mariota clean
For the first time all season, the Titans offensive line didn't allow a sack against the Saints, and the results were evident. Mariota threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns without turning the ball over. Carolina is fourth in the NFL in sacks with 25, so a repeat performance by the Tennessee offensive line will be a challenge. If the Titans are to pull off the upset, though, they'll need to continue to provide Mariota time to operate. Using an extra tight end to block at times is the right move.
2. Load up against the run
The Panthers, led by Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart, are the NFL's top rushing team, averaging 142.2 yards per game. If Dick LeBeau's defense can force Newton to rely on the pass, the Titans have a much better chance to be successful. Carolina ranks 27th in the league in passing, averaging 216.6 yards per game.
3. Dial-in on Delanie
Tight end Delanie Walker had a huge game against the Saints, catching seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. The veteran, who leads the Titans in receiving with 42 catches for 456 yards, has emerged as one of Mariota's favorite targets. Sunday should be no different. With Kendall Wright out with a sprained MCL, Walker should once again be the focal point of Tennessee's passing game.