Week 8: Ravens-Panthers: Preview, Matchups, Prediction

Carolina leads the all-time series, 3-2.

Cam Newton poses a huge challenge for the Ravens.

The Carolina Panthers quarterback is a dual threat that enables him to break down even the most stingiest defenses.

Last week against the Eagles, Newton completed 16 of 22 passes for 201 passes and two touchdowns just in the fourth quarter, leading the Panthers to a stunning 21-17 victory.

The Ravens want to make sure he does not have a repeat performance in their matchup Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

“They do a great job of getting him out there as a runner,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He runs the ball – he’ll slide occasionally – but most of the time he’s low on his shoulder and trying to get first downs, even blocking. I mean, he’s down there sometimes after he gives it on some of that stuff, if he’s down there throwing blocks.

“But I guess he’s protected well. He does that, so I’m not sure how that works. [He is a] very physical player, tough to bring down in the pocket, just a real physical guy as a quarterback.”

Baltimore (4-3) is looking to bounce back from a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to New Orleans in Week 7 when Justin Tucker missed the first extra point of his seven-year career. Despite the setback, the Ravens are still ranked first in the league for fewest yards (280.6) and fewest points (14.4) allowed.

Baltimore’s main focusing will be containing Newton, who has thrown for 1,427 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also run for three scores.

“Superman! I mean, how often do you get to play against a superhero? His nickname kind of speaks for himself.” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’s definitely going to be difficult to bring down, but hopefully neither one of us has to do it by ourselves.”

The Ravens have struggled to establish an effective running attack and are entering Week 8 with the league’s 22nd-ranked rushing offense. The Panthers are stout against the run, allowing 95 yards per game.

The onus could fall on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to make big plays downfield. Flacco is ranked fifth in the NFL with 2,067 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Receiver John Brown has caught 28 passes for 558 yards and four touchdowns.

They are butting heads with the Panthers’ secondary that has been effective containing opponents.

“We understand we’re going against a good football team, but we have confidence in what we’re doing and what our defense is doing,” Flacco said. “So, we just have to keep our foot down on the pedal and just kind of [take it] one play at a time, locked in, and that’s everybody. I think if we do that, then we’ll limit all those chances.”

Following the game against the Panthers, the Ravens have a huge matchup against the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1) at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore already won in Pittsburgh 26-14 in Week 4, and can complete a series sweep.

SERIES HISTORY

Sixth regular-season meeting. Carolina leads the all-time series, 3-2. Despite trailing in the overall series, Baltimore has won two-straight – both under head coach John Harbaugh. The teams last met in 2014 when the Ravens earned a 38-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.’s had seven receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns against his former team.

NOTES, QUOTES

Harbaugh wants NFL to look at challenge rules

Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants the NFL to reevaluate the rules with challenges.

He contends coaches shouldn't have to win both challenges in order to get one back. The conversation stemmed from the previous game against New Orleans when Harbaugh used two challenges in the first half. He won the first one, but lost the second.

Under league rules, coaches are permitted two challenges per game but are awarded a third if the first two challenges are successful.

“The rule should be changed. You shouldn’t have to win both challenges to get another challenge back,” Harbaugh said. “That’s been talked about, and that’s been just dismissed by the powers that be, who knows why. Maybe they can explain it to you in some way that would make sense. But the other thing is, we never challenge it unless we think we’re going to win it clearly.”

Harbaugh admitted that he would have used a third challenge on a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Drew Brees on a fourth-and-1 at the Ravens’ 18-yard line in the fourth quarter. Baltimore’s defensive line appeared to knock Brees short of the marker, but officials awarded the first down. The Saints scored a key touchdown later in the drive.

“You've got to at least get close to the line of scrimmage,” Harbaugh said. “And you know, it's not like you put the ball across the plane or goal line. You can't put the ball across the plane for the first-down marker; it’s got to be forward progress. And absolutely we’d challenge that one.”

Trade unlikely

The Ravens have have the league’s 22nd-ranked rushing offense. Starter Alex Collins has 309 yards on 27 carries, which ranks 27th among the league’s runners. Javorius Allen is primarily used in short-yardage situations and catching the ball out of the backfield.

As a result, the Ravens might tempted to look at acquiring a running back before the 4 p.m. trade deadline on Oct. 30. However, that scenario appears unlikely because of the limited options. Some of the potential available players include LeSean McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, Lamar Miller and Ameer Abdullah. However, Collins and Allen might be the better options moving forward.

Baltimore offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg might have to be more creative with his play calling to get more out of the run game. He has already implemented various jet sweeps with receivers to get more yards.

“The only thing that really stops them in their tracks is [if] you have an edge player that runs up the field and stands right in front of him, and he’s coming across there,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You set him up with different blocking schemes and different actions in the backfield.

BY THE NUMBERS

27 – Sacks by Baltimore this season, which leads the NFL. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith have 5.5 sacks apiece.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

CB Jimmy Smith. The veteran missed the opening four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. He had his first start Week 7 against the Saints and had one of his worst games with the Ravens. He had two pass interference penalties and allowed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas. Look for Smith to bounce back this week.

GAME PLAN

The Ravens have struggled to develop an effective running game. As a result, they have been forced to beat teams with big plays downfield. Quarterback Joe Flacco is ranked fifth in the NFL with 2,067 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Receiver John Brown has caught 28 passes for 558 yards and four touchdowns. However, the Ravens will be challenged against the Panthers, who are ranked ninth against the pass. The run defense for Carolina is also stout and Baltimore could be challenged to move the ball on the road.

Baltimore enters the game with league’s No. 3 overall defense. The Ravens, however, are still ranked first in the league for fewest yards (280.6) and fewest points (14.4) allowed. Baltimore has one of the top secondaries in the league and will have the advantage if the Panthers try to attack them through the air. Carolina might have to use the run to set up the pass behind Christian McCaffrey, who has 378 yards on the season.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton. The veteran Suggs is tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks. He will look to add to that total against Newson, who poses a bigger challenge because of his running ability. However, Newton will be at a disadvantage if he holds the ball too long because Suggs will get pass-rushing support from fellow outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. The Ravens lead the league with 27 sacks. Newton has a solid offensive line and has been sacked just 10 times.

Ravens WR Johns Brown vs. Panthers CB Donte Jackson. Brown is the Ravens biggest downfield threat and has caught 28 passes for 558 yards and four touchdowns. He signed a 1-year deal in the offseason and has put himself in position for a big payday. Jackson is tied for the league lead with three interceptions. If the Panthers can contain Brown, they will put themselves in position to win the game.

PREDICTION

The Ravens are playing their fourth road game in five weeks. The Panthers are coming off a spirited victory over the Eagles and are playing solid defense. They benefit from the home-field advantage.

Panthers 24, Ravens 20

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