Back from their break, the Baltimore Ravens have a golden opportunity to surge ahead in the division. They face a Carolina Panthers team still seeking their first road win this season. Despite the five first-round picks starting on their defense, they rank 24th in allowed PPG. Derrick Brown and Matt Ioannidis make for a powerful duo in the middle of Carolina’s front. Ioannidis is currently a game-time decision with a calf injury so his status is worth monitoring. The Ravens have been able to churn out short yardage at will lately, but if Carolina’s two defensive mammoths play, Baltimore’s success may dip.
In the passing game, the interior of the Panthers’ D-line won’t be what Baltimore will be concerned about. Defensive end Brian Burns is far and away the best player on Carolina’s defense. He’s your prototypical speed rusher, with elite quickness, bend, and a lethal getoff. Ronnie Stanley will have his hands full in pass protection, so expect a heavyweight battle on Lamar’s blindside. As long as he stays upright, Jackson should do just fine picking Carolina’s pass defense apart. Panthers cornerback C.J. Henderson is leading the league in pass interference yardage allowed, so look for a shot or two when he’s in man coverage. Jaycee Horn is essentially the secondary’s sole bright spot, sporting the league’s second lowest passer rating allowed when targeted (min. 29 attempts). The Panthers’ defense has underperformed the past few years given the talent they’ve had at their disposal and I don’t foresee a sudden rebound on Sunday.
Ravens’ defense a nightmare for opponents
The Ravens’ defense is wide awake following its early season slumber. This week they’ll welcome an old division rival to the bank. Baker Mayfield might not be playing like the rocket-armed gunslinger who took the Chiefs down to the wire in the 2020 AFC divisional, but his presence should get Baltimore’s attention. He’s always been a streaky player, so his first quarter performance should tell us all we need to know. There should be plenty of opportunities to steal a possession or two with Baker starting. He had nine passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in his first two starts this season, an area where Baltimore’s huge D-line has excelled.
Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore is an absolute stud, but he’s the only guy on Carolina’s offense worthy of drawing any type of double team. The Panthers’ O-line has been pretty solid and they’ve shown they can open up lanes in the run game. Rookie left tackle Ikem Ewkonu has committed a league-leading nine individual penalties this season, a killer for an offense that’s pretty lethargic to begin with.
Baltimore’s defense has proven by now that their improved play isn’t an aberration. The front seven is firing on all cylinders and Marlon and the guys on the back end have everything locked down. That’s a scary combination, especially when you consider that one of the league’s best center-field safeties will return at some point. Speaking of reinforcements, things are trending this week toward the season’s first David Ojabo sighting. The second-round rookie was activated two weeks ago and Harbaugh said the speedy edge rusher “could make his debut” against the Panthers. Tyus Bowser is another player to watch after his conservative pitch count against the Saints.
A Ravens front four, which has performed well in recent weeks, could finally be getting a sacred luxury: depth. Super Bowl defensive lines are like a good bullpen; you need to have a healthy rotation of relievers so the closer can come in fresh to finish the job.
Carolina doesn’t win this game. The Ravens are too well rested, too talented, and too well coached to blow this one at home. Baker is bound to give them an extra possession or two, which will be more than enough to make this a comfortable victory. Baltimore hasn’t cracked the 30-point mark since September but their rushing attack will be too much for the Panthers to handle.
Ravens 33, Panthers 17