The Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers square off this Sunday in a game that has been marketed as a showdown between Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton, two of the league’s bright young quarterback talents.
Both are living up to the praise, and both will have their impact, but Mariota and Newton will take a back seat this week…
Sunday, the linebackers take center stage.
The Titans and Panthers have two of the stingiest defenses in the league, and both defenses are anchored by their linebackers. Both units will be tested this Sunday, and the one who responds the best will likely come out victorious.
Carolina wants to punish you offensively with a steady dose of the run. Newton himself will even get in on the action with great regularity and effectiveness.
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Tennessee’s linebacker quartet Brian Orakpo, Wesley Woodyard, Avery Williamson, and Derrick Morgan, will have the unenviable task of first…stopping running back Jonathan Stewart. On third down, they must keep their assignments while keeping an eye on Newton, who can and will take off at any moment.
Carolina has one of the best tight ends in the league in Greg Olsen, and he never comes off the field. He’s a match up nightmare, and must be accounted for at all times. He may be matched up on a linebacker at times, and that linebacker must hold their own.
Likewise, the Titans made no secret of the fact that they want to be just as physical on offense. Antonio Andrews, a physical back himself, had a season high 19 rushing attempts last week in New Orleans. Interim coach Mike Mularkey wants that number to increase this week.
Look for the Panthers to see a heavy dose of the bruising Andrews, as well as the shifty Dexter McCluster.
One of Mariota’s strength’s is his quick release on play-action passes, so Carolina’s lb’s will need to keep their head on a swivel.
And like the Panthers, Tennessee will look for ways to get Delanie Walker, their top receiving threat tight end, matched up one on one with a linebacker. Backup tight end Anthony Fasano is also a proficient receiver, and an early down play-action threat.
While he hasn’t shown much of it this season, Mariota’s ability to make things happen outside of the pocket must be accounted for at all times as well.
A busy day in store for both units.
Stopping the run and keeping the qb in the pocket are paramount for both defenses this week, and that job starts with the linebackers.