Joseph Person’s three things to watch in Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Tennessee:
Panthers can’t let up
This game has the potential to be an emotional letdown for the Panthers, who are coming off a three-game home stretch that included a pair of prime-time games and a big win against Green Bay. They have to find a way to get juiced for an early kickoff (noon local time) against an AFC South team with a 2-6 record. The Titans have the league’s sixth-best defense and a sharp rookie QB in Marcus Mariota. Three of their losses were by a total of six points. Sean McDermott should set the tone by calling a couple of early blitzes to try to rattle Mariota, who has been sacked 19 times in six games but was well protected last week vs. New Orleans.
Offensive linemen must react quickly to zone blitz
Tennessee assistant head coach Dick LeBeau doesn’t just believe in the zone blitz. He created it. The Titans will bring seven defenders to the line of scrimmage on most pass plays. They might send them all at Cam Newton or might drop a couple into coverage. Panthers linemen such as left tackle and former Titan Michael Oher have to be quick on their feet to recognize their responsibility and keep Newton clean in the pocket. The Titans are tied for seventh in the league with 22 sacks, and got to Drew Brees four times last week. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (five sacks) is one of three players with at least four sacks.
Linebackers can’t bite on play fakes
Panthers linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly need to continue to be disciplined against play action. Mariota is adept at sticking the ball in the gut of a running back and reading the linebackers. If they commit to the run, Mariota will pull the ball out and look for tight ends Delanie Walker and Anthony Fasano in the vacated space. Walker pulled in seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns last week at New Orleans, while Fasano caught the game-winner on a throwback pass in overtime. Carolina’s linebackers will get help from veteran strong safety Roman Harper, who has played well of late.
Panthers at Titans
Nissan Stadium, Nashville
Sunday, 1 p.m.