Panthers need pass rush to frustrate Titans offense

Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

The Carolina Panthers (4-3) and the Tennessee Titans (4-4) will face off Sunday in Charlotte.

For the sixth-straight game, Kyle Allen will be the Panthers’ starting quarterback as Cam Newton continues to work back from injury. Allen struggled mightily last weekend against the 49ers, however, the defense gave up a whopping 51 points in the defeat. Generally regarded as one of the top units in the NFL, the Carolina defense needs to rebound in a big way this Sunday. If the defense can play well and get some critical stops, the Panthers have a good chance to churn out another victory in front of the home crowd.

The Panthers rank second in the league in sacks, despite already having a bye, while the Titans are tied for the most sacks allowed.

In seven games, Carolina has 30 sacks–second behind only the Patriots. By comparison, the Panthers had just 35 sacks all of last season, which ranked 27th in the league. The reason for the turnaround? Offseason additions. In 2018, Mario Addison was the team’s leading sacker with 9.0 and no other player had more than 5.0. So far in 2019, Addison already has 6.5 sacks, while rookie Brian Burns has added 4.5 more, and veteran newcomers Bruce Irvin and Gerald McCoy have combined for 6.0.

On the opposite sideline, the Titans have been utterly embarrassed by opposing pass rushes. Tennessee is giving up an astounding 4.25 sacks per game for an NFL-high 233 yards lost. To make matters even worse for the Titans, two of their starting offensive linemen were put into the concussion protocol after last Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers and it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to suit up against Carolina. As far as run blocking goes, Tennessee struggles in that area too. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans have been stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage on 24% of their rush attempts.

If the Panthers can bounce back from a poor defensive performance last week and generate pressure on Ryan Tannehill, they will be able to create opportunities to force turnovers and let the defense feed the offense. In his lone career start versus Carolina, Tannehill was sacked three times in a losing effort. Tennessee leads the all-time series, 3-2.

Sunday’s contest could prove to be a crucial one for Carolina in the long-run.

Entering this weekend’s matchup, the Panthers sit at 4-3 on the season and in second-place in the NFC South. Carolina is currently 2.5 games back of the New Orleans Saints in the division and 1.5 games back of the Seahawks and Vikings in the Wild Card chase. It’s too early in the season to call Sunday’s game a “must-win,” however, the Panthers will travel to face Green Bay in Week 10 and then have a critical road date with the Saints in Week 12.

Including the upcoming Tennessee game, six of the team’s remaining nine games are against teams with a record of .500 or better. So while Carolina doesn’t necessarily have to win this weekend, the schedule is about to get noticeably more difficult. Fortunately for the Panthers, Sunday’s matchup bodes well for the home team.