This Sunday, the Ravens travel to Charlotte for the second of three consecutive clashes with the NFC South. They managed a 3-1 record against the AFC East this season, and after last week’s heartbreaking loss to Atlanta, that’s the best they can hope for against the other conference this year. The Carolina Panthers offer a great opportunity to put the Falcons’ loss firmly in the rear view, and get back on the winning side of things.
Carolina has been bitten by the injury bug in an extreme fashion in 2010. They are down to their third string running back, having lost both members of their very potent two-headed rushing attack. DeAngleo Williams was just this week placed on season-ending IR with a foot arch injury, and Jonathan Stewart is dealing with a concussion. Third stringer Mike Goodson put up 100 yards against Tampa last week, but is nowhere near the dynamic talent that Williams and Stewart are. On top of that, the Ravens looked to have gotten their run defense shored up, holding Michael Turner to just 39 yards last Thursday.
Rookie defensive lineman Terrence Cody had his best game to date, racking up five tackles and doing a great job of clogging up the middle of the line. Brandon McKinney has been a healthy scratch for the last two games, but many Ravens fans would much rather see Kelly Gregg as the inactive DL at this point. “Buddy Lee” is having a sub-par year, and McKinney was playing very well before sitting out against Miami and Atlanta. With Haloti Ngata, McKinney, and now Cody playing well, running the ball against the Ravens could suddenly be, if not quite as impossible as it’s been in the past, still quite a task. Regardless, Goodson shouldn’t find much room on Sunday.
The Panthers are also banged up at quarterback. They lost Matt Moore for the season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and rookie Jimmy Clausen is out against the Ravens due to a concussion. Instead of going with the other rookie signal caller already on the roster, Tony Pike from Cincinnati, Carolina head coach John Fox decided to go instead with Brian St. Pierre, signed just this week. If St. Pierre’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the Ravens’ 3rd-string QB in 2005. In his 8-year NFL career, he has thrown just 5 passes. Needless to say, the Pierre-led Panthers present the perfect opportunity for the Ravens to rebound after being gashed through the air by Matt Ryan last week. While shutting down St. Pierre and the Carolina passing attack won’t impress anybody, it certainly beats the alternative, which would be making him look like Johnny Unitas, as they did with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in Week 7.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens are dealing with their continuing struggles to get on the board early in road games. It was a popular topic of conversation around Ravens blogs and B’More talk radio all week, and at this point there is no denying their troubling tendency to come out of the gates extremely lame. While these slow starts have been something Joe Flacco has seemingly been prone to as a whole for at least the last two seasons, the problems are even more magnified on the road, where the Ravens offense averages just 1.2 points in the first quarter over their last 11 games. The coaching staff is obviously well aware of the problem – at this point the burden falls on them to get it fixed. While it’s nice to see Anquan Boldin going off on his offensive teammates on the sideline when they need it – especially when it results in a touchdown on the very next possession, as it did in Atlanta – that’s not the kind of thing you want to see from a playoff-bound team. Much more preferable would be to never see those long stretches of anemic play from the offensive unit.
Again, Carolina offers the Ravens a chance to cure what ails them. The Panthers have trailed by a touchdown or more at halftime in five of their nine games this season. They boast the fifth-ranked pass defense in the NFL, but let’s not kid ourselves; those numbers are a direct result of teams jumping out to a comfortable lead and then spending the majority of the second half running the ball and killing the clock. With the #27 run defense, the Panthers offer little resistance in that area, and Ray Rice and Willis McGahee should be in for big days.
As we do every time our boys clash with a clearly inferior opponent, we have to remind our fellow Ravens fans – many of whom still have visions of Miami in 2007 dancing through their heads – that this is the kind of game John Harbaugh’s teams just don’t lose. While they nearly wet the bed against Buffalo, that performance was much more the exception than the rule. At this point, the Panthers are basically fielding a junior varsity NFL team. Seriously…Brian St. Pierre. Joe Flacco, Joe Flacco’s backup (Mark Bulger), and even Joe Flacco’s backup’s backup (emergency quarterback Anquan Boldin) would give Carolina a better chance on Sunday. Some Panthers fans are angry because they see the St. Pierre move as John Fox basically begging for an in-season firing.
Last year, December games against Chicago and Detroit offered the Ravens a great chance to pad their record, a chance which they took full advantage of. This December’s slate is none so kind, but these final two games in November – at Carolina and at home against the Bucs – offer a similar opportunity for the 2010 Ravens. To solidify their position going into a grueling stretch run over the season’s final five weeks, the Ravens need to rip off wins here over the next two.
There are 30 other teams who wish they were playing the Panthers this weekend. There is absolutely no excuse for this game to even be close.
Ravens 34 Panthers 6