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Rivera: Titans' smashmouth offense 'can be a force'

The Tennessee Titans turned heads last week with a run-heavy pounding of the San Diego Chargers.

It's just the preseason -- we get it -- but after watching the club pile up 288 rushing yards at a wild 8.7 yards per carry, this year's Titans have the league's attention.

"When you watch what they're doing on tape, you see them spread people out, move people around, shift in motion, and then they're still running the ball," said Panthers coach Ron Rivera, per the team's official website. "It is smashmouth, because there are a lot of inside runs, inside zone. You see some power plays, some counter plays, some gap-scheme stuff."

Rivera's loaded Panthers will face the Titans on Saturday, providing Tennessee's new-look offense with a juicy late-August acid test. Carolina's front seven is loaded with Pro Bowlers and confirmed beasts, a contingent that regularly makes mincemeat of opposing quarterbacks. Tennessee's Marcus Mariota will face plenty of pressure, but Rivera doesn't expect Titans coach Mike Mularkey to abandon his "Exotic Smashmouth" leanings.

"They should (run it)," Rivera said. "They've got the Heisman Trophy winner (in second-rounder Derrick Henry) and DeMarco Murray back there. They've got a good combination of runners, and they can be a force most certainly to deal with."

If Tennessee's success on the ground is a surprise, their approach isn't: the Titans were blue-ribboned as the NFL's most-improved backfield by colleague Chris Wesseling, who wrote way back in May about the team's desire to attack today's smaller, quicker defenses with a blistering whirlwind of big-bodied linemen and powerful runners.

It's been years since this was the case, but the Titans are suddenly must-watch TV for NFL fans. Tennessee's ground game going up against Carolina's Super Bowl defense is the sexiest battle on Saturday's slate -- a showdown that will tell us plenty about how the Titans match up against one of the league's rubber-stamped super powers.

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