The Baltimore Ravens game against the Carolina Panthers is all about taking care of business. The Ravens are clearly the stronger of the two teams and from their perspective are heading to Charlotte at exactly the right time. The Panthers are coming off two lopsided losses and at 1-8 have nothing other than pride to play for. The Panthers are also depleted by injuries and are turning to Brian St. Pierre to runt he show at QB, but that is fodder for the defensive preview. The Ravens, meanwhile, have to be motivated by the tough loss in Atlanta and have the benefit of 3 extra days of rest heading into their 2nd straight road game. But this might not have the feel of a true road game. Tickets are cheap and word is that many fans will be wearing purple on Sunday at M&T South. The Ravens offensive personnel matches up well with the Panthers defense, but what can we expect from the offensive game plan?
On the Ground: If there is a game this year that the Ravens should try and flex their muscle running the ball, this is it. The Panthers are allowing over 131 yards per game on the ground. which ranks 27th in the NFL. The Ravens have the talent at running back to make plays in many ways on the ground. Ray Rice is running well and is always a weapon in the passing game. Simlarly, Willis McGahee continues to make contributions when given the opportunity. The question mark in the Ravens running game has become the offensive line. The line has good talent and experience, but they have not been firing off the ball like they have in years passed. Int he Falcons game we saw the Ravens use more run plays that looked to take advantage of the defenses aggressiveness with draws and trap plays. this may be the solution for a line that has not consistently gotten a lot of push at the line of scrimmage. The good thing is that that style suits Rice well, but it is not effective in short yardage situations. It will be something to watch as the Ravens will face stronger run defenses than the Panthers later in the season. This week I expect the Ravens to run the ball early and often. Look for int he range of 175 on the ground, unless Carolina completely sells out against the run. In which case there will be lots of one-on-one match-ups for the Ravens to take advantage of….
Through the Air: If I am the Panthers I know I have a good pass defense and I also know that the Ravens and QB Joe Flacco have struggled some against cover 2 defenses. It makes sense that Carolina will look to run some cover 2. The problem with that playing cover 2 will require Carolina linebackers to be very involved in the pass defense. Cue the Ravens run game. If the Panthers start to drop more into the box, we will see Flacco look to beat the Panthers down-field, especially in the deep middle. There is the potential for Todd Heap or Ed Dickson to have a lot of balls thrown their way. Another factor that stands to benefit the Ravens is that Carolina struggles to generate a consistent pass rush, recording only 13 sacks through 9 games. The Ravens have proven that when the keep Flacco clean they are effective throwing the ball.
Because of the mismatch in talent level, the Ravens should again be able to chose their pleasure on offense. Since Carolina struggles so much offensively, themselves, the Ravens offense may find itself with some short field opportunities. I expect the Ravens to get out to an early lead on Sunday, a rarity in road games this season, and win this game by 17 or more points. I mentioned it in our podcast, but this could be a game where we see Marc Bulger take some 4th quarter snaps to close out a convincing Ravens win.