Ravens vs. Panthers Game Preview

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The Ravens are set for their third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium (8:00 pm ET).

BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent.

Rankings

Total Offense– 10th Total Defense– 18th

Rush Offense –3rdRush Defense –20th* *

Pass Offense –19thPass Defense –16th

Points Per Game –7thPoints Per Game –12th

Sizing Them Up

The Panthers are one of those teams that is always in the playoff race, and this year could be another trip to the postseason for the Cats.

Built on one of the NFL's most dangerous rushing attacks, the Panthers averaged a whopping 152.3 yards per game on the ground last season. That was largely due to the feats of DeAngelo Williams, who topped 1,500 rushing yards.

Jonathan Stewart also provides a punch to the running game, as the first-round draft pick totaled 836 yards last year, but he hasn't played in the preseason with an Achilles' injury. With a solid offensive line led by Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross, Carolina can tear up the turf.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme uses weapons like the speedy playmaker Steve Smith and stalwart veteran Mushin Muhammad to open up the air game.

The Panthers' defense features dynamic pass-rusher Julius Peppers and a trio of speedy linebackers to fit new coordinator Ron Meeks' scheme. Carolina may not have the services of starting linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, however, as both of them are dealing with injuries, as well.

The Ravens may be able to exploit the middle of the defensive line, as massive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, a former Baltimore player, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Carolina's biggest knock may be their lack of depth at that position. 

What's Up?

My counterpart, Andrew Mason of Panthers.com, writes about rookie Mike Goodson's contributions this preseason.

"With 78 yards from scrimmage and 169 all-purpose yards, Mike Goodson leads the Panthers in preseason yardage amassed, and no one -- not even a quarterback -- is within 80 yards of second place."

The Panthers are in dire need of a quality defensive tackle, according to the Charlotte Observer.

"Middle linebacker Jon Beason and defensive end Julius Peppers have let it be known publicly (Beason directly and Peppers more subtly) that the players are hoping help is on the way."

Awards

Offensive – Really, Williams is the engine that drives this offense. He totaled 1,515 rushing yards, marking a franchise record. He led the NFL with a team record 18 rushing touchdowns, and actually added two receiving scores. Williams also established a team-record with eight consecutive games with a rushing touchdown. Not too bad in only his third year.

Defensive –Peppers is an incredibly disruptive player. After moving from left defensive end to right in 2008, he amassed a career-high 14.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. The former North Carolina Tar Heel also led the defensive line with 63 tackles and 29 quarterback hurries. 

Emerging Star

Rookie cornerback/returner Captain Munnerlyn not only has a great name, but he's also making a name for himself on the team.  Last week, he returned a punt 58 yards, but he also lost a fumble on another return. He has been a solid playmaker in the secondary, as well, so keep an eye on him late in the game.

Key Matchups

Ravens RT Michael Oher vs. Panthers DE Julius Peppers
After facing the Washington Redskins and New York Jets, the Ravens' first-round draft pick has not seen a pass-rusher of Peppers' caliber.  Oher is a mauler with a mean streak, but his athleticism will be tested immensely by Peppers' agility – he was a former UNC basketball player – and power at 283 pounds.

Ravens CB Domonique Foxworth vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith
If these two players line up across from one another, it will be an interesting matchup.  Foxworth played with the Atlanta Falcons last year in the same division as Carolina, so he may have some insights as to how to play the multiple Pro Bowler.

Quotable

Panthers head coach John Fox on what he looks for in the third preseason game: "Improvement. Again, not a lot of game planning; neither side does much. You let your starters play a little bit longer and you want to see them improve in the things you're doing offensively, defensively and in the kicking game."

Fox on if tackling has been an issue in the first two preseason games: "That's always an issue. If you haven't missed a tackle you haven't played. It's something you look for, and we need to continue to improve it. I thought we did from week one to week two and I expect to see the same improvement from week two to week three."

Duff's Take

Saturday marks the third preseason game, and as we all know, that is the one that features the most playing time for the starters.  So Joe Flacco is going to get about three quarters with his offense, and Ray Lewis will be out there for three periods with the D. 

It's going to be the closest thing to a regular-season matchup you can ask for. 

And don't be naïve.  The Panthers are thinking the same thing.  There are going to be some great matchups with both of the first units going against each other.

I'm going to be watching Michael Oher very closely.  The big rookie right tackle is going to face Julius Peppers – shout out to the Tar Heels – for most of the night. 

Pep had a down year in 2007, but his 14 1/2 sacks last season let everyone know that he is still one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. 

Oher might even go the entire game, because he'll be switching to left tackle with the No. 2's when Jared Gaither takes the bench.  It will be a great test for him.

Also, I'll keep an eye on Tavares Gooden, and you should too.  He's so fast sideline-to-sideline.  So fast, in fact, that he probably runs a 4.4 40 even though he weighs almost 240 pounds.  Not too shabby. 

But Gooden is not going to have an easy run in the park with DeAngelo Williams potentially lining up across from him in the backfield.  Sure, we all know that Ray Lewis is going to get his share of tackles, but how will Gooden step up to the speedy Williams that rushed for an amazing 15 hundred yards last season? 

A good showing at Bank of America stadium, and Gooden could wrap up the starting linebacker spot permanently, holding off a late surge from Jameel McClain.

And of course, you have to pay close attention to the kicker battle.  Judging by recent game performance, Steve Hauschka has the upper hand – or leg – considering Graham Gano's two misses, but this will be the first time both of them will be kicking in a hostile stadium. 

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