- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Dick LeBeau hopes on Sunday that he sees more of Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota on the field than Cam Newton.

After all, playing keepaway might be the best defense against the NFL’s best rushing offense and the quarterback nicknamed Superman.

“The key is Marcus have the ball out there and us be over there watching him,” LeBeau said Thursday.

Jonathan Stewart and Newton give the undefeated Panthers powerful options running the ball, and Newton leads Carolina with five touchdowns rushing. He also averages a team-best 4.7 yards per carry. It’s a big reason why Newton has been sacked only 13 times.

The Titans (2-6) have been pretty stingy defensively themselves and are looking forward to this challenge.

They rank sixth allowing 329 total yards per game, fourth against the pass and third in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt. Linebacker Brian Orakpo has a team-high five sacks and 19 quarterback pressures, linebacker Derrick Morgan has 4 ½ sacks with 11 pressures and lineman Jurrell Casey has four sacks with 16 pressures.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said protecting Newton will be crucial because the Titans can send blitzers from any direction. Eight different Titans have at least a half sack this season.

“The biggest thing, more so than anything else, is you can’t let that combination of defensive linemen or blitzing linebackers or rushing linebackers get after him,” Rivera said.

No defense can chase the quarterback without first stopping the run. Tennessee is giving up 111.5 yards rushing this season, which ranks 17th in the league. But the Titans are coming off their two best games this season after holding Houston to 56 yards on Nov. 1 and limiting the Saints to just 61 yards in last week’s win.

Morgan said the Panthers have been so effective running the ball that opportunities for sacks have been limited. They also don’t hurt themselves with too many mistakes.

“We definitely have to play assignment-sound football on defense because if one guy has bad eyes or loses his key, it could be a touchdown,” Morgan said. “So we got to be disciplined as well.”

Casey said the key is not worrying about the sacks.

“If we stop the run, the sacks will come,” Casey said. “That’ll be our mindset going into the game.”

The Titans have failed to sack a quarterback in a game only once this season against Atlanta. They took down Drew Brees four times last week, even though linebacker David Bass was fined more than $17,000 for roughing the Saints quarterback with his sack in the fourth quarter. Bass said Thursday he plans to appeal the first fine of his career.

“That is a lot of money,” Bass said. “I don’t care how much money you make in the world, that’s a lot of money.”

The Titans know they have to force the Panthers to throw to prevent the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton from picking them apart.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Orakpo said.

Notes: Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey said CB Jason McCourty is trying to decide how to proceed with an injured groin after getting varying opinions. McCourty had surgery to repair his groin Aug. 24 and has missed one game with the injury. … LB Zach Brown did not practice Thursday in what Mularkey called his decision to let Brown rest up a knee bruised at practice Wednesday. WR Kendall Wright (left knee) also did not practice. CBs Perrish Cox and Blidi Wreh-Wilson both were limited with injured hamstrings, and RB Dexter McCluster (ankle) was limited. … Mularkey replaced left tackle Taylor Lewan as one of the offensive captains last week with McCluster. Lewan said the move took him aback at first but he quickly understood the coach wanting a player with more NFL experience. Lewan is in his second season. “this gives me an opportunity to play left tackle and not have to worry about anything else,” Lewan said.

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Online:

AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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