Bank of America Stadium: Charlotte, North Carolina
In the third preseason matchup for both teams, the surging Baltimore Ravens took on the winless Carolina Panthers. The first half of play looked very similar for Ravens fans this preseason as quarterback Joe Flacco continued his impersonation of an established hibachi chef, dissecting the defense with impeccable precision. Flacoo-san (that's right, I'm calling him Flacco-san) completed 17 of his 22 pass attempts in the first half for nearly 200 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came in the Ravens' second possession to Baltimore fan favorite Todd Heap in double-coverage. The lone difference during the first half of play compared to the two previous preseason games was that Flacco-san spread his passes out among just five recipients; two of which were running backs. Flacco-san continues to favor veteran wide-out Derrick Mason, connecting with him five times for 61 yards. Thus, indicating that the Ravens' have not found any additional help at the wide receiver position so far.
News flash to the Ravens, Brandon Marshall is looking to get out of Denver, and the price continues to drop faster that General Motors (ticker MTLQQ.PK) stock this past spring.
For much of the first half, the Ravens appeared to be favoring second year running back Ray Rice. Rice carried the ball nine times for 25 yards, and caught six passes for 55 yards. Then, during the Ravens' second scoring drive, as the team entered the red zone, they went with Willis Mcgahee. McGahee looked impressive, eventually punching his way through into the end zone, putting the Ravens up 14-3. This tandem, in addition to full back Le'Ron McClain, give the Ravens' a great weapon at the running back position. This bodes great news for Ravens' fans, but bad news for fantasy football enthusiasts, as they cannot decide which player to draft first.
The Panthers defense continued to struggle, unable to find answers for Flacco-san or Rice. Even when they did manage to stop Baltimore, they would shoot themselves in the foot with a third down penalty, thus keeping their drive alive. The lone blemish on the Ravens' offense in the first half was Steven Hauschka's missed field goal attempt from 27 yards out. Hauschka is not worried though, as his lone competitor has missed easier and more attempts thus far.
The Panthers' offense looked anemic for most of the game aside from their lone field goal (the only points allowed by the Ravens' first team defense this preseason). Ravens' cornerback Domonique Foxworth looked very sharp covering the elusive and very talented Steve Smith. Foxworth got beat by Smith on one play, but quickly recovered with blinding speed to break up the pass. Smith broke free from Foxworth on another play, but 345-pound pro-bowler nose tackle Haloti Ngata made up the ground, and was able to knock Smith out-of-bounds, thus preventing him from scoring. The first quarter was littered with penalties, as both sides showed signs of rust.
Baltimore's wide receivers and running backs put on a clinic tonight, making several Panthers' miss tackles on more than one occassion. There were no turnovers in the first half, but the Ravens' controlled the tempo, holding the ball for more than 18 minutes.
Flacco-san picked up right where he left off in the second half by completing each of his six passes for an additional 48 yards. However, the Ravens were only able to squeeze out a 38-yard field goal, stretching their lead to 17-3.
Troy Smith took over for Baltimore midway through the third quarter, and engineered a good-looking drive until bubble tight-end Edgar Jones bobbled a pass that fell into the hands of the Panthers' defense. This drop pass, coupled with a later holding penalty called against him, should give enough cause to the Ravens' coaching staff to cut Jones next week.
Carolina was able to capitalize on the lone turnover of the game (with most of the first teamers resting on the sidelines, yucking it up with other teammates) via the second-string crew. This time, the Panthers were finally able to punch the ball into the end zone (despite several 10-yard penalties on their behalf), narrowing the score to 17-10.
Carolina had another to chance to get into the red zone, but settled for a 50-yard field goal, further shrinking the Ravens' lead to four. However, Baltimore was able to eat up the rest of the clock on the back of Jalen Parmele, as he ran for 68 yards on four carries.
The Ravens, who were second in the league last year in time of possession, hogged the ball tonight for more than 35 minutes.
Baltimore, despite their lack of talent at wide receiver, appear poised to make a run in the AFC this season, and are certainly a force to recon with. Conversely, the Carolina Panthers, despite their depth of talent on both sides of the ball, looked very much of sync, and appear to have a long 2009 season ahead of them.