Tennessee returns home for the Thanksgiving holiday after a miserable three-game slide on the road. Up next for the Titans: a home date against a similarly moribund Panthers squad trying to find any semblance of good play. The Panthers have just one win on the season with the Frank Reich and Bryce Young duo. Can Tennessee find a win against the bargain bin-dwelling Panthers while shopping on Black Friday? Whose misery will continue into the Christmas season?
Music City Musings – Week 12: Carolina Panthers @ Tennessee Titans
Panthers Offense vs. Titans Defense
Carolina has struggled to gain any consistency offensively, failing to score more than 20 points in seven of ten games. They have scored less than 14 points in five games to this point. A rookie quarterback armed with a bevy of offensive line issues and no reliable receivers is most problematic. Another issue has been the toggling between two playcallers. Frank Reich has retaken the duty from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
OL vs. DL Matchups to Watch
The Panthers’ offensive line has been a glaring issue that has led to very exasperated and waylaid offensive output from Young. Carolina’s primary concern has been the left side as both positions have been a bigger liability than the right side. Franchise left tackle Ikem Ekonwu has regressed from his solid rookie outings. Regardless, he isn’t even the worst concern, as that honor goes to rookie left guard Chandler Zavala. The former NC State lineman is the worst-graded guard in PFF’s ranks, coming in at a ghastly 26.5 overall. Zavala’s pass-blocking grade is simply not cutting it as it scores below 10. Right tackle Taylor Moton has been the highest-graded lineman with a score of 66.9 and the highest paid as well. Moton will have a new friend at right guard after Austin Corbett was placed on IR this week.
Tennessee will have the talent advantage in this one across the line. The interior linemen like Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, and Teair Tart should consistently win their matchups on Sunday. Can Carolina contain the perimeter against a shaky Arden Key and Harold Landry? Expect Tennessee to mix and match using Simmons and Autry’s versatility.
Skill-on-Skill Matchups to Watch
If Young has the time to get the ball to his receivers, it’s where the Panthers can exploit the Titans’ weaknesses. Adam Thielen has been the go-to receiver, easily clearing the next three wide receivers COMBINED. How vast is the gulf between Thielen and the other receivers? The veteran has gained 726 yards while the next four receivers have combined for 641. The short to the intermediate game is a large part of the Panthers’ offense as a pair of running backs and a tight end combine for 62 receptions for 422 yards. There has been an equal time share between Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders in terms of PPR play. The running game is near the bottom of the league, ranking 29th in yards and 24th in yards per carry.
Countering the woeful Carolina passing attack is Tennessee’s equally sordid secondary. DJ Chark will likely draw a gleeful matchup against the maddeningly inconsistent Kristian Fulton. On the other side, nickel corner Roger McCreary will probably go up against rookie Jonathan Mingo. Sean Murphy-Bunting’s health bears watching as he’s battling a broken thumb. He was a full participant at Wednesday’s practice. If the cornerback misses another week, McCreary will once again go outside while a mix of Eric Garror, Tre Avery, and Elijah Molden slide in and out.
It will be interesting to see how Tennessee counters Hayden Hurst with its litany of linebacker and safety assets. Newly acquired safety Terrell Edmunds is injured and on track to miss the game. Ditto K’Von Wallace on the injury front. Of course, it remains to be seen if Hurst can clear concussion protocol, himself. Tennessee will have to avoid a repeat of the Steelers game where they repeatedly gave up gobs of short to intermediate yards.
Titans Offense vs. Panthers Defense
Speaking of inconsistently consistent units, the Tennessee offense is entered into evidence. After a hot start, the Will Levis show has had some sputters. While the rookie has had some growing pains, the position groups around him have done him no favors as well. Can the young signal caller get back on the right track against a retooling defense and elite defensive mind?
OL vs. DL Matchups to Watch
The Titans’ offensive line situation is dire, to say the least. Injuries and horrible play have marred the franchise yet again. Left tackle Andre Dillard has been benched, recalled, and benched again in the span of several weeks. Right tackle Chris Hubbard has been lost for the season due to a biceps injury. Center Aaron Brewer has been up and down even with the quarterback change. Peter Skoronski has been the steadying force at left guard. It will be interesting to see how Tennessee manages the tackle spots going forward. Some combination of Dillon Radunz and rookie Jaelyn Duncan will likely start. Dillard is an expensive swing option in case of horrid play or injury if he can clear concussion protocol.
No matter who starts at tackle for the Titans, it will be a slog against the fearsome freak athlete Brian Burns on the perimeter. Rookie third-rounder D.J. Johnson starts on the opposite side of Burns and should see the worst of the tackle pairing. Derrick Brown is still Derrick Brown. How the Titans counter Brown and Shy Tuttle on the interior will swing the trenches.
Skill-on Skill Matchups to Watch
The skill-on-skill battle is a decidedly unfair no-contest verdict favoring the Panthers by a landslide. The only reliable weapons for Tennessee are DeAndre Hopkins and screen passes to Tyjae Spears. Kyle Philips has been attempting to emerge as an asset for Levis but is inconsistent. Treylon Burks continues to miss time after a bad concussion several weeks ago and is likely lost for the season. Veteran Chris Moore has been coming on lately since the quarterback change. Tight end Chig Okonkwo has been ghastly this season with numerous drops and disappearing acts. His backup, Josh Whyle is slowly overtaking him for the top job. Derrick Henry has been bottled up for several weeks and is in need of a breakout game.
Carolina has a tough secondary for the feckless Titans’ skill players featuring players like Vonn Bell, Troy Hill, and Donte Jackson. They also have starters Jeremy Chinn and Jaycee Horn designated to return from IR. However, CJ Henderson is battling a concussion, and key backup Dicaprio Bootle was just placed on IR. Linebacker Frankie Luvu is the second-leading sack artist and the leading tackler so he will be a weapon to look out for. Deion Jones is a veteran that has been having a tough time over the past couple of seasons. He can be a weakness for the Titans to exploit. EDGE rusher Yetur Gross-Matos has been designated to return from IR this week.
The weather report for Nashville projects to be 53 degrees with a 57% chance of rain. The chance of rain percentage has been the highest for Tennessee games this season. Winds are predicted to blow in a southwestern direction at eight miles per hour. 57 degrees is slightly below average the normal temperature this time of year for the city. There is no weather advantage for either team as Charlotte is geographically and meteorologically similar to Nashville.
Odds and Ends
The all-time series is tied at three apiece between these two sides. Carolina has won two straight matchups. Mike Vrabel is 0-1 against the Panthers in his career. Frank Reich is 4-5 against Tennessee as a head coach with four consecutive losses in the head-to-head against Vrabel.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) November 24, 2023
Draft Pick Watch
Current Titans selection: Sixth overall
Current Panthers selection: NONE. Surrendered their first overall selection to the Chicago Bears
Main Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck – USA Today Sports