Five Things To Watch: Panthers at Titans

1. TITANS' AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE: The Titans may be 2-6, but you wouldn't know it looking at their defense. Tennessee ranks sixth in the NFL in total defense and seventh in sacks with 22. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, outside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme, have combined for 9.5 of those sacks.

"They cause a lot of disruption, getting after the quarterback and forcing the quarterback to get out of the pocket and make off-balance throws rushing to get the ball out of his hands," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "They have a really good scheme. They cause a lot of chaos on defense and are doing a great job of making plays."

Sounds like a typical Dick LeBeau unit. The longtime coordinator has the Titans playing aggressive and effective defense in his first season in Tennessee.

It'll be a challenge up front for the Panthers, who were rock-solid protecting quarterback Cam Newton a week ago against the Packers.

"They blitz, and Tennessee has a front that has gotten a lot of pressure," guard Trai Turner said. "We didn't give up any sacks (against Green Bay), which we are really proud of. We just want to keep it going forward."

2. GETTING TO MARIOTA: When Ken Whisenhunt was fired and Mike Mularkey was named interim head coach prior to Tennessee's Week 9 game against the Saints, one of the top priorities was devising a plan to better protect their quarterback.

"It was imperative that we did something different," Mularkey said. "We did a number of things to try to help the protection."

The early results were positive. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, wasn't sacked in the Titans' overtime win at New Orleans. After a shaky start in his return from a knee injury, Mariota completed 28 of 39 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns.

"He looks like he's confident and relaxed back there," linebacker Luke Kuechly said of Mariota. "He knows what he's doing, and last week he had a lot of fun."

Added linebacker Thomas Davis: "He's a true dual-threat quarterback, and whenever you face guys like that it always makes your job harder. He can run the ball, and he's pretty accurate throwing the ball. It's going to be a huge challenge defensively, and we're up for it."

Carolina is coming off a five-sack performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and the Panthers know they'll need to make Tennessee's talented dual-threat rookie uncomfortable.

3. WHAT'S NEXT FOR FUNCHESS? Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess had a breakout performance in the win over Green Bay, recording his first NFL touchdown reception in addition to a spectacular 52-yard catch.

Will he build on that outing in Week 10?

It won't be easy against a Tennessee secondary that ranks third in the NFL against the pass (217.5 yards per game).

4. TRUSTED TIGHT ENDS: Interestingly enough, the leading receiver on both these teams is a tight end. Greg Olsen paces Carolina in catches (37), receiving yards (584) and receiving touchdowns (five). Delanie Walker leads Tennessee in all three categories with 42 catches, 456 yards and three touchdowns.

Tracking these tight ends will be a tall and critical task for both defenses.

5. BALL SECURITY: Carolina, one of the top teams in turnover differential at plus-six, is facing a team at the other end of the spectrum. Tennessee has turned the ball over 17 times (third-highest in the NFL). The Titans rank 27th with a minus-six turnover differential.

Week 10: Panthers vs. Titans

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