After a three-game winning streak and a welcome rest, the Ravens (6-3) will host the Carolina Panthers (3-7) to kick off their push for the postseason. The Ravens are heavy favorites, but do the Panthers, led by a familiar Baltimore nemesis in quarterback Baker Mayfield, hold any advantages?
Ravens passing game vs. Panthers pass defense
Lamar Jackson attempted just 22 passes, completing 12 to 10 different targets, in the Ravens’ Week 9 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Was his passing line an outlier, dragged down by the absence of tight end Mark Andrews and a few misfires on deep throws? Or was it a harbinger of the way the Ravens will play with No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman out for the season? Coach John Harbaugh sounded optimistic that Andrews (42 catches, 488 yards, five touchdowns), who has not played since the first half of the Ravens’ Week 8 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, might face the Panthers. He was a limited participant in practice Wednesday. The Ravens would do well to make more use of wide receiver Devin Duvernay (25 catches on 33 targets, 318 yards, three touchdowns), whom Jackson targeted just once in the Saints game. On the plus side, rookie tight end Isaiah Likely became Jackson’s most frequent target in Andrews’ absence and responded with touchdown catches against both the Buccaneers and Saints. Despite the drop in his raw passing numbers, Jackson ranks fifth in ESPN’s QBR statistic measuring all-around quarterback play. He has benefited from excellent pass blocking by tackles Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses and guards Ben Powers and Kevin Zeitler.
The Ravens will face a defense that ranks 27th in pass DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. The Panthers feature a gifted young cornerback in Jaycee Horn, a powerhouse defensive tackle in Derrick Brown and a productive edge rusher in Brian Burns (seven sacks, 12 QB hits), but they have struggled to cover tight ends and rank 19th in third-down defense. They rank ninth in blitz rate, so Jackson will have opportunities to attack them with quick throws and perhaps take a few deep shots.
Panthers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
The Panthers rank last in passing DVOA, and Mayfield lost the starting quarterback job after five weeks, regaining it for this game only because P.J. Walker suffered a high-ankle sprain. The Ravens know the 2018 No. 1 overall pick well from his four seasons in Cleveland, but Mayfield has hit new lows for Carolina, completing just 56.6% of his passes with four interceptions and 15 sacks in six games. He ranks last by a healthy margin in QBR. The Panthers gave up their most prolific pass catcher when they traded running back Christian McCaffrey after six games. Former Maryland star DJ Moore (478 yards, three touchdowns) is their most dynamic threat but has been inconsistent, catching just a hair more than half the balls thrown his way. The Panthers’ tackles and guards grade decently as pass blockers, but they will try to hold the fort against a Ravens pass rush that has taken off in recent weeks.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston has led the way with 6 1/2 sacks in his last three games, while fellow veteran Calais Campbell (3 1/2 sacks, eight QB hits) has pushed from the interior. Coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense ranks eighth in the league in sacks while ranking 21st in blitz rate, an equation he has to love. The Ravens are third in turnover differential after falling to 28th last season. Safety Geno Stone has covered well filling in for injured starter Marcus Williams, and rookie Kyle Hamilton frequently played in lieu of a third cornerback against the Saints, making a case that he deserves even more snaps going forward.
Ravens running game vs. Panthers run defense
The Ravens played without Gus Edwards or J.K. Dobbins against the Saints and still finished with 188 rushing yards. They hope to have Edwards, their most powerful runner, against the Panthers. Veteran Kenyan Drake has piled up 155 yards on 31 carries over his last two games. Jackson remains the one irreplaceable weapon for the NFL’s most efficient running attack, leading the Ravens with 635 rushing yards and averaging a league-best 7.4 yards per carry. Seven of his 11 carries against the Saints produced first downs. Moses has become a dominant blocker in recent weeks, with help from center Tyler Linderbaum and the team’s tight ends.
The Panthers rank 22nd in rushing defense DVOA. Opponents average a solid 4.5 yards per carry, and the Cincinnati Bengals hammered them with 241 rushing yards in a Week 9 blowout. But linebackers Shaq Thompson (77 tackles, six for loss) and Frankie Luvu (56 tackles, nine for loss) have played well, and Brown, their 2020 first-round pick, is a force in the middle.
Panthers running game vs. Ravens run defense
If Carolina has a strength, this is it, even without McCaffrey in the fold. The Panthers rushed for 232 yards, led by D’Onta Foreman’s 130, in their Week 10 win over the Atlanta Falcons and rank 11th in rushing DVOA. Chuba Hubbard (5.6 yards per carry) has been effective in a limited role behind Foreman. Mayfield is not much of a running threat.
The Ravens, meanwhile, looked fearsome in their one game with trade addition Roquan Smith at middle linebacker. They held two dynamic running threats, Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill, to a combined 36 yards on 10 carries. Smith is one of the league’s top seek-and-destroy tacklers, and the Ravens expect him to elevate a defense that was already headed in the right direction after a few subpar performances against the run early in the season. Campbell and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike offer a stout first line of resistance, setting the table for Smith, linebacker Patrick Queen and safety Chuck Clark to clean up.
Ravens special teams vs. Panthers special teams
The Ravens continue to lead the league in special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker has made 18 of 20 field goal attempts, with his only misses coming from 56 and 61 yards. Duvernay is the league’s best returner, averaging 15.1 yards on punts and 31.9 yards on kickoffs. Rookie punter Jordan Stout has raised his game after an inconsistent start.
Carolina is solid on special teams, with an excellent punter in veteran Johnny Hekker and a dangerous kickoff returner in Raheem Blackshear. Kicker Eddy Pineiro has made 18 of 20 field goal attempts, though he has tried just one from 50 yards or beyond and has missed two extra point attempts.
Ravens intangibles vs. Panthers intangibles
The Ravens won three in a row before getting last weekend off, and they’re a deep, confident team with a clear path to a divisional championship and a return to the postseason. They have traditionally handled their business against teams they’re supposed to beat with Jackson at quarterback and Harbaugh as their head coach.
The Panthers are trying to find their footing under interim coach Steve Wilks, who replaced Matt Rhule after five weeks, and they’re trying to do it without an established No. 1 quarterback. They have yet to win on the road this season.
The Ravens opened as double-digit favorites for a reason. It’s difficult to identify a path to victory for the Panthers, who will travel to Baltimore with a bottom-10 defense and the league’s worst quarterback so far this season in Mayfield. The Ravens will not give Carolina much room for hope as they begin their push for a high playoff seed. Ravens 30, Panthers 16