Carolina Panthers

Panthers scouting report: A stout Titans defense, stocky Derrick Henry pose problems

A scouting report on the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans, who meet Sunday at Bank of America Stadium as both teams look to stay above .500:

When the Panthers pass the ball ...

They’ll need Kyle Allen to press less than he did against San Francisco a week ago. Allen and coach Ron Rivera said that once the Panthers fell behind early against the 49ers, Allen stopped playing within the confines of the offense and started looking for big plays where there weren’t any. And the Titans have two cornerbacks — Logan Ryan and former Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler — who will make Allen pay for similar mistakes; both intercepted Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston last week. Tennessee is allowing about 239 passing yards per game, so there’s an opportunity there if Allen can get back to his turnover-free ways.

Advantage: Titans

When the Panthers run the ball ...

They’ll almost certainly do so effectively. Even though seemingly everything else went wrong for Carolina in San Francisco, running back Christian McCaffrey still racked up more than 150 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. The Panthers are still No. 10 in the NFL in rushing yards per game (129.6), but more impressively, they’re third in rushing yards per attempt (5.15). That’s a testament to McCaffrey’s effectiveness, even without Cam Newton distracting defenses. The Titans allow less than 100 yards a contest on the ground, but they haven’t faced a back of his caliber since early in the season.

Advantage: Panthers

When the Titans pass the ball ...

Carolina has to get its hands on the ball. The Panthers have recorded 10 interceptions thus far in 2019, tied for second in the NFL, and often have given the ball back to the offense with favorable field position. Additionally, this revamped secondary has held five of the seven opposing passers it has faced under their per-game average passing yards. That said, offseason trade acquisition Ryan Tannehill has been a revelation for the Titans offense, throwing for five touchdowns against just one interception in two games as a starter.

Advantage: Panthers

When the Titans run the ball ...

Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson will have their hands full. Titans running back Derrick Henry — listed at 6-3 and 247 pounds — is actually bigger than either of Carolina’s two standout linebackers, and that physicality translates to the way he plays. Henry has 581 yards and five touchdowns thus far in 2019, but he’s liable to break off a monster game at any time just due to his sheer size. Defensive coordinator Eric Washington warned against letting Henry get a full head of steam this week; that’s especially true when you consider the Panthers allow 135.1 rushing yards per game.

Advantage: Titans

Special teams

Kicker Joey Slye and punter Michael Palardy continue to impress for the Panthers, but the interesting man to watch is rookie Greg Dortch. The former Wake Forest receiver returned two punts for touchdowns his final year in college, and Carolina is hoping he’ll be able to do the same for them — especially since the Panthers have struggled finding someone who can consistently catch the ball. Meanwhile, the Titans are already onto their second kicker this season and have had their own issues in the return game.

Advantage: Panthers

Coaching

Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel, much like the Panthers’ Ron Rivera, is a former player-turned-coach with a particular defensive toughness about him. Again, sound familiar? Vrabel, however, has come under fire in recent weeks for a number of confusing decisions, including a surprising fake field goal attempt in the game’s closing minutes last week. Rivera knows his team is having flashbacks to last year’s Pittsburgh game that torpedoed the second half of Carolina’s season, and he’ll make sure they’re more prepared after Sunday’s beatdown at the hands of the 49ers.

Advantage: Panthers

Prediction

Similar to the Panthers’ game last week against the 49ers, Sunday will a grind-it-out type of game where defenses and running backs thrive. Luckily for Carolina, they have McCaffrey and one of the NFL’s best takeaway defenses. Tennessee’s defense is certainly stout, especially in preventing scoring, but they’re not quite as overwhelming as San Francisco was. Rivera will have his group as motivated as ever after getting embarrassed a week ago, and that doesn’t bode well for the Titans. Expect a trench-oriented game for the second week in a row — only this time, the Panthers limit Tannehill and Henry just enough to secure the victory.

Panthers 23, Titans 21

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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