Sunday we have our first tilt against a competitive NFC South, and it’s no cake walk. Lost in all the Steve Smith hubbub is a pretty good football team in Carolina, despite their showing last Sunday night against a Steelers team we manhandled. Both teams are 2-1 and are solid defensively. Both teams play a physical brand of football. They matchup pretty evenly, so the margin of error is small. I think the Panthers are a bit more mistake-prone than we are, so we just gotta take advantage. Here are some more of the key questions for Sunday’s throwdowns.
Offensive line took a big hit on Wednesday when we found out left tackle Eugene Monroe would be out for several weeks after minor knee surgery. Undrafted rookie James Hurst will take his place for the time being, but don’t let that label fool you. He was projected to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick before he broke his leg in UNC’s bowl game, and he shut down Clowney last year too. He’ll mightstruggle a bit, but I’m confident he won’t be a complete disaster. The Panthers’ front 7 produced the 2nd best defense in the league in 2013, and are possibly the toughest we’ll see all year. Osemele, Zuttah, and Yanda have been dominant, and need to continue to do so for us to run the ball. The 264 rushing yards Carolina gave up last week were an aberration, and they’ll come out with a chip on their shoulder trying to prove that. I don’t care who gets the carries as long as we move the ball on the ground.
Can we stop the big play?
Big plays are killing us. We’re a long AJ Green touchdown from being 3-0. My fear is that Kelvin Benjamin is too similar to Green. At 6’5, he’s a beast. He’s going to be the next great receiver in this league. Cam Newton has the arm to throw it deep, and Benjamin has the speed to get behind the defense. We just need Matt Elam to not play like street trash and keep him in front of us. I’m convinced Jimmy Smith is physical enough to jam him off the snap and compete for contested balls, but Elam needs to shadow him and keep him in check. If we lose this game, it’s probably because he got burnt.
Who’s going to step up in the red zone?
Dennis Pitta’s gone forever (I think). Marlon Brown is MIA. I don’t even know who Torrey Smith is anymore. Can somebody please step up?! Owen Daniels had a solid showing against Pittsburgh, but that’s been pretty much it on the receiving end in the red zone. I think we’re finally figuring out who the goal line back needs to be (Taliaferro, like I said all along), but the receivers have been a show. Flacco deserves his fair share of the blame, but the lack of size we have at receiver is a glaring weakness. It’s all up to you, Marlon. You’re 6’5 and caught 7 tuddy’s last year. And you’ve caught one ball this year. Be better.
Can We Please Get To The QB Already?
I’m exhausted of saying it, but the pass rush is a joke. We have 2 sacks in 3 games so far. TWO! Only St. Louis has less. Suggs and Dumervil need to be better, but the real problem is Dean Pees is afraid to bring the heat. Part of that can be attributed to starting bums in the secondary, but the sentiment stands. I don’t know what inspired him to to blitz Hoyer last week, but it resulted in back to back 3-and-outs in the 4th quarter. As Lardarius Webb continues to get re-acclimated and gets more snaps, Pees SHOULD feel more comfortable blitzing more. Will he though? I’m not so sure. Come on Dean, send the house and rattle Cam’s cage.
Should be a fantastic game. Ravens are wearing their all black uniforms for the Steve Smith revenge game. Good. When we get the black going, it pops. It’s our war paint. Steve’s going to be mic’d up too, which means we all win. I don’t know how much of what he says will be TV appropriate, but it’ll be a treat regardless. Cannot wait for Sunday.
One last thing. It’s been a real tough week for me and my love of white tight ends. But Sunday we get to recognize my favorite. Todd Heap is going into the Ravens Ring of Honor. In the dark, dark days of the Kyle Boller era, he was a shining light. Concussions and injuries cut his career shorter than we would’ve liked, but he’s still a Ravens great. Can’t wait to hear one last HEEEEEEEEEAPPPPP at M&T Bank Stadium. Thanks for the good years Todd.