by Sharon Thorsland
The Panthers are in for a challenge this week as they take on the Ravens in Baltimore. After a 3-3 start to the season, the Ravens have won three straight, they’re in first place in the AFC North, and they’re coming off a bye. The Panthers are feeling pretty good after a Thursday night win over the Falcons and believe it or not, are still in contention in the NFC South even at 3-7 on the season. And they’ve had another quarterback change – Baker Mayfield will start in place of the injured P.J. Walker. Mayfield is very familiar with the Ravens after spending the first four years of his career in Cleveland. “They have great players on defense. They’re stout, they’re tough – they’re a talented group and they play hard.”
The Ravens have long been known for their physical defenses and this group is no different. They’ve got 27 sacks and 16 takeaways through nine games, and have plenty of All-Pros in the lineup including linebackers Justin Houston and Roquan Smith. They’ve got a pair of outstanding corner-backs in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell anchors the front line. The Ravens are extremely tough against the run, they’re allowing just 92 yards per game, that’s 3rd in the NFL. So will D’onta Foreman be able to pick up yards against this group? He’s had at least 118 yards on the ground in three of his last four games, and will need another big day for the Panthers to have a chance.
The Ravens are even better at running the ball than they are at stopping it – they boast the league’s second ranked rushing attack picking up over 168 yards per game. It all starts with quarterback Lamar Jackson, who leads the team with 635 rushing yards and also has nearly 1800 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air. The 2019 MVP is one of the most difficult players to defend in the league, prompting Panthers defensive coordinator Al Holcombe to call him “Houdini in a helmet,” while defensive end Brian Burns says to defend Jackson you have to put him a phone booth. “He can make a lot of things happen,” said Burns. “He’s electric. He finds holes, he finds creases and he can take it for 70 quick.”
Unfortunately Jackson isn’t the only threat on this Ravens offense. Running back Kenyan Drake has stepped up big in place of injured backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and the Ravens also have plenty of talented receivers including veteran DeSean Jackson and All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews. As a whole though the Ravens passing attack hasn’t been near as impressive as the run game, they’re only averaging 187 yards a game through the air. The Panthers secondary is short-handed though after losing top corner-back Donte Jackson to a torn Achilles, and safeties Justin Burris and Myles Hartsfield are also out.
This is just the seventh match-up between these teams, the Panthers won four of the first six including the most recent game in 2018. Mayfield is confident they can win this one as well. “I expect to win. That’s what I expect out of myself and out of our group as well.”