NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -The Tennessee Titans ribbed defensive tackle Tony Brown mercilessly. Not for his 10 tackles, but for the bigger play he didn't make intercepting one of the balls that bounced near him.
This season, the Titans can enjoy the chance to nitpick.
A defense that gave up more yards than any other in the NFL in 2006 now is the league's stingiest unit against the run and fifth in yards allowed. When Carolina visits Sunday, the Titans (5-2) will be looking to hold an opponent to 14 points or fewer for the sixth time this season.
``They're definitely probably the best defense I've seen on film all year,'' Panthers quarterback David Carr said.
Nice words, but the Titans aren't listening. They have a goal this season to finish in the top 10 defensively, their way of erasing the ugly statistics of 2006, when they missed the playoffs by one game.
``It really doesn't matter to us what people think of us,'' Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
``It matters to me what my linebackers see and what my coaches see and to a certain extent what our fans see. But as long as we're getting the job done and winning games, that's the most important thing.''
Tennessee's defense has been its biggest strength this year. The Titans are allowing only 64.3 yards rushing per game, and their 15 sacks don't fully measure how they have been pummeling quarterbacks.
Vanden Bosch and end Travis LaBoy each have four sacks. Linebacker Keith Bulluck said the line, which also features tackles Albert Haynesworth and Randy Starks, Brown and end Antwan Odom are the defense's driving force.
``They're playing phenomenal, and everyone else is doing their part as well,'' Bulluck said.
Compare that to the Panthers, who have a league-worst four sacks despite having three-time Pro Bowlers Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker.
``Sometimes it's made too much of,'' Carolina coach John Fox said. ``I'd like to see us have more sacks than we do because they're negative plays against an offense. It helps create longer yardage situations. It's something we need to improve at, but I don't think it's the end of the world.''
This will be the first trip to Nashville for Carolina (4-3), and the Panthers come in with a half-game lead in the NFC North. The team that has lost five straight at home has won six straight on the road. The Titans? They're 21-6 against teams making that first trip to LP Field.
But Fox's biggest problem is figuring out which quarterback is healthy enough to start.
Carr has practiced despite compression fractures in his lower back and said he feels better than when he came off the bench in last week's 31-7 loss to Indianapolis. Vinny Testaverde, who oversaw an 11-minute drive to start that game, is day to day with a sore Achilles' tendon.
``We probably won't make any final decisions until gameday,'' Fox said.
That will pressure the Panthers to run well enough with DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams to give either Carr or Testaverde time to find receiver Steve Smith. The veteran had only two catches in double-coverage last week and complained vigorously about it to coaches.
Panthers center Justin Hartwig, who spent his first four years in Tennessee, thinks sticking with the run is the key.
``It's frustrating for us. At times, we create our own demise, and we end up throwing the ball the entire fourth quarter. But that's the challenge we face as an offensive line, to be able to knock the guys off the ball and to be able to keep running the ball,'' he said.
The Titans have their own problems even as LenDale White has topped 100 yards rushing for Tennessee in each of the past two games to help eat up the clock.
Vince Young's right quadriceps muscle should feel better after he threw for only 42 yards, but the Titans have not scored a touchdown passing since Sept. 24. They have five offensive TDs in four games while settling for 14 field goal attempts.
``That's not necessarily a bad thing,'' Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. ``We are getting points, but you need to score touchdowns.''
Bulluck said that doesn't pressure the defense.
``But we know there is not enough room for error,'' he said. ``That makes us a better, fundamentally sound defense. Our offense is definitely going to come along. Right now we're playing big brother. But at the end of the day, we're all a team.''

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