Titans vs Panthers preview

The Tennessee Titans (5-2) will finish their games against this year’s interconference opponents when they host the Carolina Panthers, who lead the NFC South division with a 4-3 record. Carolina lost at home to the Colts 31-7 last week while the Titans beat the Raiders 13-9.
Field: grass. Forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 65°. Calm wind WSW 5-10 mph.
Carolina Scouting Report:
Overview — Panthers coach John Fox has a similar style and attitude to Jeff Fisher’s. They’re both defensive coaches who like to keep the score down and win with defense and the kicking game. Interestingly, the Panthers are 4-0 on the road but 0-3 at home this year.
Offense — The Panthers have already had three different starting quarterbacks this season — Jake Delhomme, who’s now on Injured Reserve, old man Vinny Testaverde (strained achilles) and David Carr (sore back), who has an up-close and personal familiarity with the Titans’ defensive line. Carr has been taking the snaps in practice this week and is expected to start, which probably has Kyle Vanden Bosch and Travis LaBoy looking forward to renewing their acquaintance with him.
Three-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith is the go-to guy for whichever QB is healthy enough to play. He’s about the only weapon they have though. The Panthers rank 25th in the league with 198 receiving yards per game.
DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams comprise Carolina’s tenth-ranked rushing attack, which averages 129 yards per game.
Defense — Fox’s standard 4-3 defense is ranked 21st overall in the NFL, at 340 ypg. The rushing defense is 19th (113 ypg), and the pass defense is 23rd (227 ypg). The Panthers strength was supposed to be their d-line, but they’re last in the league with only four sacks. Their most talented player is LDE Julius Peppers.
Special teams — Rookie returner Ryne Robinson is struggling. Kicker John Kasay is good on field goals but doesn’t get much length on his kickoffs.
For a closer look at Carolina from their perspective, Eye of the Panther is recommended reading.
Keys for the Titans:
Stop Steve Smith — Tennessee’s league-best rushing defense should be able to contain Foster and Williams. The defensive key will therefore be to contain Smith, who will face a lot of double coverage.
Red Zone Efficiency — Getting the ball in the end zone continues to be an issue which will cost the Titans dearly if they don’t get the problem corrected.
Matchups to Watch: Although they won’t line up directly across from each other, former Titan center Justin Hartwig and Albert Haynesworth will be in close proximity on a lot of plays. Hartwig publicly blasted Albert after the stomping incident last year and the two have had previous incidents in training camps. They are not on each other’s Christmas card lists.
RT David Stewart will be tested by Peppers. The Titans defensive backs vs Smith is another matchup to keep an eye on.
Connections: Titans receivers coach Fred Graves coached Smith in college. At the draft combine in Indianapolis this spring, Smith approached Jeff Fisher to recommend Graves for the Titans’ receivers coach job. Titans DT Tony Brown was formerly in the Panthers camp but was caught in a numbers squeeze and released. Kerry Collins began his pro career as a Panther. David Thornton, Calvin Lowry and Leroy Harris are North Carolinians and Ryan Fowler (Duke), Stephen Tulloch (N.C. State) and Eric King (Wake Forest) went to Carolina to play their college ball. Panthers OT Frank Omiyale is from Whites Creek, which is near Nashville.
Prediction: This game has all the makings of a low-scoring contest. The Titans have furnished no reason to make anyone think they can suddenly become a high-powered scoring offense. Rob Bironas will kick one more field goal than Kasay for the margin of victory.
Tennessee 16
Carolina 13

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