The “most important” of the fake football games is upon us, as the Ravens travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers in preseason week 3. Week 3 of preseason is traditionally the game in which the starters play the most out of any of the four exhibitions. As such, we want to see our boys in purple and black looking sharper then we saw against either the Redskins or Jets.
What specifically will I be watching for from my couch?
Seeing an opponent rack up rushing yards is about as foreign to us here in B’More as a menu that considers “crab” snow crabs or some such nonsense. The Jets, though, were able to find some room on the ground, even when the Ravens starters were on the field. Baltimore fans have been a bit uneasy after seeing that, so we are all a little anxious about whether first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s squad can plug the holes we saw in Week 2. Carolina was the #3 rushing team in the NFL in 2008, averaging over 152 yards per game. They will be without half of their lethal 1-2 rushing attack though, as Jonathan Stewart is sidelined with an injury. DeAngelo Williams (5.5 ypc in 08) will see the bulk of the carries, and will present a significant challenge for the Ravens.
Hindering the Ravens’ efforts will be the lack of DT Kelly Gregg, who injured his shoulder against New York. Word is that Kelly would play if this were a regulat season game, but will sit out just to be safe.
Depth at linebacker is nothing new in B’More, but this preseason the Ravens are even more stacked at the position than normal. As a result, some guys that seemed to be a lock when they checked into the Best Western in Westminster now find themselves teetering on the bubble. Antwan Barnes, for instance, who saw action in 13 games and made 14 solo tackles as a pass-rush specialist in 08, finds himself neck-and-neck with such newcomers as Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe missed the Jets game though, and will need to suck it up and get some reps in Charlotte. Prescott Burgess is in a similar situation.
Speaking of linebackers, is it time to start worrying a little about T-Sizzle? He hasn’t seen the field since the first week of August, and now that the team is back at their complex in Owings Mills, it seems unlikely that Suggs is still just trying to avoid practice.
This one isn’t so much a battle any more as it is a “hang on” situation for Steve Hauschka. He has a definite lead over rookie Graham Gano at this point, and as long as he hits his kicks from here on out, the 2nd-year player from NC State should find himself on the roster opening day. Hauschka might have some extra friends and family in the stands down in the Tar Heel State, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.
Beast OT Michael Oher will see his first true test in the NFL, as he takes on Panthers DE Julius Peppers, who had 14.5 sacks last year. Oher, who has been calling out the likes of Dwight Freeney since he was in high school, certainly won’t back down from the challenge, but he will have his massive hands full keeping Joe Flacco upright.
Of course we couldn’t go an entire preview without touching on (beating) the ravens WR situation (dead horse). Mark Clayton, despite returning to practice this week and declaring himself available for the game, will be held out by Coach John Harbaugh. This will give the slew of guys competing behind Clayton some more precious reps to show that they can be the consistent option on the outside that B’More desperately needs. Kelley Washington has played well, but Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper, Jayson Foster, et al. need to step up, lest the Ravens be forced to hit the waiver wire over the next several weeks. Some sources have them coveting whatever WR the Philadelphia Eagles decide to cast off.
As always, the main point of focus in a preseason game is for everyone to come out healthy. These items (and more) though, will give us plenty of other sports-talk fodder for run up to the regular season opener.
How about you, see anything I missed?