Ravens vs. Panthers: Five Questions Behind Enemy Lines
By Brett Foote
Aug 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Anthony Allen (35) gives a stiff arm to Carolina Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander (90) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
As we prepare for Sunday’s first non divisional game, Ravens vs. Panthers (a.k.a. the Steve Smith Bowl), we wanted to gain some inside perspective on what to expect from the first meeting of these teams in four years. To get the scoop, we reached out to W.B. Whitted at Cat Crave, our Panthers sister site on the FanSided network.
We prepared five questions for W.B. to help us shed some light on Sunday’s matchup from a fan’s perspective and to get an inside look at some factors that are sure to impact the game. Both teams are coming into Sunday with a 2-1 record after the Ravens squeaked out a last second victory in Cleveland against the Browns, and the Panthers lost a tough one to the Steelers in Charlotte.
First things first…Steve Smith. Even I expected a solid but unspectacular season out of him this year. But he has defied all odds and leads the Ravens in receiving by a wide margin. This has happened despite a number of double teams by opposing defenses. Do you think the Panthers will make defensive adjustments to try and minimize his impact this week?
I think the best thing to happen to Carolina’s defense was the overhaul of the secondary. They are better tacklers and physically a bigger bunch than last year’s crop. An added by-product of the turnover is the fact that Steve Smith is completely unfamiliar with the set of DBs that he will be facing Sunday. While he is certainly acquainted with the defense generally, his inside knowledge will be limited. Still, an angry Steve Smith is more than redundant, he’ll be dangerous come kickoff time.
The Panthers defense looked like their usual dominant selves the first two weeks of the season before getting blown out of the water last week against the Steelers. Was this a one week departure from the norm, or are there problems looming on the horizon?
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The defense was good in the first half, they only gave up 9 points. It was the repeated long drives (and corresponding inept offensive play) that wore the defense down and eventually made them susceptible to plays like this. If the offense can sustain drives and keep some of the pressure off a talented defense, this team will be in every game of the season.
The Ravens will be rolling out an undrafted free agent at left tackle this Sunday following the loss of Pro Bowler Eugene Moroe to knee surgery. The Panthers are without dominant All Pro defensive end Greg Hardy. Do you think they can capitalize and bring pressure on Joe Flacco, who to this point has only been sacked twice?
The team has missed Greg Hardy. While Hardy is obviously super talented (denoted by the franchise tag and hefty paycheck he receives), the defensive line’s biggest strength is its depth. Hardy went out, that will mean that Charles Johnson will have to step up. In Hardy’s absence, Mario Addison has been extremely impressive with 3.5 sacks on the season. I’d like to see more out of 2nd round selection Kony Ealy, but Flacco should get an introduction to SOMEONE on the defensive line if Carolina has any chance of beating the Ravens.
The Panthers have been ravaged by injuries at the running back position, and have only a couple of unknowns behind banged up veteran DeAngelo Williams. With Cam Newton banged up as well and the Panthers calling less read option plays, do you think they can move the ball on the ground against the Raven’s top ten NFL run defense Sunday?
Short answer, no. In all honesty, the lack of running game is the most disturbing thing about Carolina’s game. A team that has been predicated on the run has caught a cold hand of cards in relation to health and running backs. DWill will get the start, and Darren Reaves looks to be next up after Mike Tolbert went down with a hairline fracture. In the past, Cam Newton has been able to supplement the running game. With his own health issues, his running contributions will be few and far between. I’m hoping an effective passing attack early will get a player out of the box and make running the ball a bit easier.
Dean Pees told the media yesterday that Jimmy Smith will likely shadow Kelvin Benjamin Sunday. Since Smith has been the only effective corner the Ravens have this season while everyone else has been downright terrible, who will likely pick up the slack in the Panther’s receiving corps?
Kelvin Benjamin has been fantastic. He’s the best wide receiver of the bunch, even though he is only a rookie. If Jimmy Smith blankets him to the point of being ineffective then the Ravens will most likely win. But regardless of Benjamin’s talent, the team will need more receiving talent. Tight End Greg Olsen is a reliable target, and new acquisition Philly Brown provides a welcomed change with his speed and quickness. Despite all of the media attention to the players we jettisoned from the receiving corps, Cam has talent to throw to and it will be crucial for him to show that early and often Sunday.
One thing we can say for sure is that we doubt this game will end with a lopsided score like last weeks Panthers and Steelers abomination. Both of these teams are talented and pride themselves on shutting down opposing offenses with particular emphasis on the ground game. We also expect some tempers to flare with Steve Smith on the field, no matter how much the team tries to temper his emotions. It’s going to be really fun to watch.
A big thanks goes out to W.B. for providing his insight into this week’s game! You can check out W.B.’s five questions for us, along with out answers, over at Cat Crave.