It's hard to imagine reading the news, but there is more to Sunday's game than just Steve Smith Sr.'s revenge against his former Carolina Panthers.
Two very good teams will lock horns at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens are coming off a strong road win against the Browns, while the Panthers are looking to maintain first place in the NFC South after a blowout defeat in Pittsburgh.
"It means a lot more to [Smith], so it means more to us," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "But it's just a regular football game. We're trying to go up 3-1."
Wide receiver Torrey Smith said Smith's Panthers reunion is something to talk about and for the players to laugh about. He admitted to looking forward to hearing what Smith Sr. will say in the heat of battle and afterwards.
But there's more to look forward to.
"We'll focus on trying to get the next win," Smith said. "They're a good team who obviously had a tough loss this last week. But they've consistently been one of the top defenses, so that's something we're going to have to deal with."
Three Matchups To Watch (other than Steve Smith)
CB Jimmy Smith vs. WR Kelvin Benjamin
This could be a matchup where the Ravens choose to keep Smith anchoredon the opponent's top receiver, similar to when the Ravens kept Smith on Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. Benjamin is a big-time matchup problem standing in at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. The rookie first-round pick is hot, coming off eight catches for 115 yards and one touchdown against the Steelers. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has given up just nine catches for 40 yards so far this season.
NT Brandon Williams vs. C Ryan Kalil
Williams has been quite impressive so far this year, and more than held his own against Cleveland Pro Bowl center Alex Mack last week, especially versus the run. This week, Williams will get the NFC's Pro Bowl center over four of the past five years in Kalil. If Williams can get push up the middle, the Ravens should be able to contain slightly hobbled Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (ankle). The key to stopping Newton's running is to get pressure from the front four.
FB Kyle Juszczyk vs. MLB Luke Kuechly
This is a showdown between brainy Boston boys who bring a lot of muscle. Juszczyk (Harvard) will be asked to clear holes for the running game, and that will mean taking on Kuechly (Boston College), last year's Defensive Player of the Year. Kuechly is a tackling machine that can fowl up the Ravens' rushing attack if he's able to roam free.
Three Keys To The Game
Feed Steve, Or Feed Off Him
Obviously, wide receiver Smith Sr. will bring a lot of emotions into Sunday's game. The expectation is that he could have a big game against his former team. While the Ravens certainly want to give him that opportunity, they also don't want to force him the ball and make mistakes. The Panthers know he's going to want to have a big game as well. Other Ravens receivers – perhaps Torrey Smith – could feed off the attention Smith Sr. gets.
No More Big Plays
The Ravens defense got beat too many times for big gains in the secondary in Cleveland. There seemed to be assignment issues when the Ravens went into zone coverage. Safety Matt Elam will specifically be looking to bounce back after a rough outing last week. The Panthers let Smith walk, but they still have targets who can beat you deep in Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen.
Stick With The Run
The Panthers have a stout defensive front. It's headlined by Kuechly, but defensive end Charles Johnson and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei are standout players as well. The Ravens have had their greatest offensive success this season when the ground game is consistently churning out yardage, taking pressure off quarterback Joe Flacco and allowing for more easy completions. Carolina will have some success against the Ravens' running, but Baltimore has to do enough to not abandon it.