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Game Preview: Panthers vs. Ravens

Perhaps the Ravens' most important preseason game is Thursday night's ESPN primetime matchup against the Carolina Panthers.

The third preseason game is the one in which the starters see the most playing time. Some starters will play into the third quarter, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh. It's their chance to get on track after two rocky games to start the preseason.

The first-team offense has the most to prove, as reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco has yet to put up a big performance and is still looking for go-to receivers other than Torrey Smith. The first-team defense was surprisingly not solid against the run in its last showing and is ironing out wrinkles in the secondary.

It should be a good final test for the Ravens as they are just two weeks away from the regular-season opener in Denver. They want to go into that game with some rhythm.* *

Matchups To Watch

CB Jimmy Smith vs. WR Brandon LaFell
Smith is coming off a rough showing last week against Falcons wideout Julio Jones. Smith lost focus of his technique. If Smith wants to make a final stab at a starting job, he needs to have a much better game. Like Jones, LaFell is a big-bodied wideout at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds.

TE Dallas Cark vs. LB Jon Beason
Clark didn't get any playing time in the Ravens' second preseason game, but has enough practice and familiarity with Baltimore's offense to see action this time around. With Ed Dickson's status for the regular-season opener in question and Dennis Pitta out, Clark could play a big role. Watch for his chemistry with Flacco.

WR Jacoby Jones vs. CB Captain Munnerlyn
Jones has just one catch in the preseason so far. While Smith scored on a 77-yard touchdown against Atlanta, the Ravens are looking for somebody else to step up. Baltimore hasn't attempted many deep passes this preseason (which is Jones' specialty), but it would also be good to see the fleet-footed No. 2 wideout make plays on intermediate routes.

Keys To The Game

Stay out of trouble
The Ravens' first-team offense has been hindered by penalties, turnovers and negative plays. Flacco has thrown an interception in each preseason game. If the offense can limit the mistakes, the unit should be able to move the chains more consistently. Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell said they need to turn it up a "notch or two." The starters should get the time to do so.

Shut down the run
Baltimore's front seven has received widespread acclaim this offseason. But it saw running back Steven Jackson and the Falcons have success during the last preseason game. The unit wasn't playing with its usual fundamentals, and it needs to get back to that to show that running on the Ravens isn't going to be so easy this year. The Panthers have a talented backfield with running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, fullback Mike Tolbert and running quarterback Cam Newton.

Get the injured guys back
The Ravens could have a couple big-time players suit up for the first time this preseason. Cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) might receive snaps, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh. The team wants them to get in, make some hits and shake off the cobwebs. Keep an eye on them to see if they look to be ready for the regular-season opener.

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