5 Things To Watch vs. Panthers


The Ravens will finally step outside of the AFC North.

After a tough three-game stretch against division foes to open the season, the Ravens will face the Carolina Panthers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

The game has been dubbed by many as a chance at revenge for Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. as he faces off with his old team, but that won't be the only thing to watch.1.       Receivers other than Steve Smith Sr.

The former Carolina Panther has dominated the discussion throughout the week and will certainly attract most of the attention Sunday. But he's not the only receiver on the roster, and the Ravens will need some of the other targets to step up after the season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta. Torrey Smith has six catches on the season, Jacoby Jones has three and Marlon Brown has one. Look for some of the other receivers on the roster to get some more looks this week, especially with Steve Smith attracting so much focus.

2.       Keep Cam Newton out of rhythm

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hasn't looked like his old self to start the 2014 season because he's dealing with a couple different injuries. He suffered cracked ribs in the preseason and he also had offseason ankle surgery. He's trying to play through the pain, but the injuries have kept him from getting into an offensive rhythm. The Ravens want to put pressure on him and keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket. The injuries may limit how much the Panthers draw up designed running plays for Newton, and that means Baltimore's pass rush will have to get hits on him inside the pocket.

3.       James Hurst at left tackle

The Ravens suffered a tough blow when starting left tackle Eugene Monroe went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for "some number of weeks." His expected replacement is undrafted rookie James Hurst, who will be responsible for protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside. Hurst was a four-year starter at North Carolina, but he slipped out of the draft after a leg injury at the end of his college career. He now finds himself on a big stage, and the Panthers will certainly put him to the test. The Ravens could try to get creative on the line by using combo blocks and shading protection to his side, but he's going to have to hold his own against a talented defensive front.

4.       What does Ravens' defensive front look like?

The Ravens also have some injury concerns on the defensive side of the ball, as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (thigh) and defensive end Chris Canty (knee) both missed practice time this week. It would be significant for the Ravens if both of them are unable to play Sunday. The Ravens signed former Chargers defensive lineman Lawrence Guy this week to add some depth  in case they're short-handed against the Panthers.

5.       Hot hand in the backfield

The Ravens have adopted a backfield-by-committee approach in the early part of the season. Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett have all had their chances to carry the football, and it's unknown who will get the bulk of the reps this week. Pierce came into the season as the starter, but he missed last week's game with a thigh injury. He's expected to play Sunday, but the Ravens could still give plenty of carries to the other backs. The Ravens have said they plan to ride the hot hand in the backfield, and that will certainly be the case against Carolina.

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