Thursday, August 22, 2013
What to watch: Panthers-Ravens
By Jamison Hensley
Here are three storylines for Thursday night's game between the Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
1. Time for Joe Flacco and the starting offense to get on track: None of the concerns about the Ravens' starting offense have been alleviated so far this summer. Even though the Ravens have kept the play calling basic, Flacco and the Ravens have been awful in their execution over two preseason games, showing a lack of rhythm without their top two tight ends (Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are injured) and no proven No. 2 receiver. In three quarters this preseason (eight drives), the Ravens' starting offense has produced one touchdown, two turnovers (both interceptions) and three three-and-outs.
Baltimore is far from panicking over the lack of production, and Flacco isn't worried about his efficient but far from electric numbers (14-of-18 for 175 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions). The Ravens, though, would feel a lot better about themselves if they gain some momentum in what should be the last extensive playing time for the starters this preseason. This is the Ravens' best chance for a good showing. Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) is scheduled to make his preseason debut, tight end Dallas Clark will take the field for the first time for the Ravens, and wide receiver Brandon Stokley should get an increased number of snaps.
2. The No. 2 wide receiver battle: It's been more of a quandary than a competition. Jacoby Jones was the favorite to win the job and he is still listed as the starter opposite Torrey Smith on this week's depth chart, but Jones can't get separation in this battle if he can't get separation from cornerbacks. In the four passes thrown his way this preseason, defenders have caught more passes (two interceptions) than Jones (one catch for 4 yards).
Jones' disappointing preseason has created an opening for Stokley and a handful of young receivers to earn more playing time. Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson (who isn't expected to play because of a foot injury), Aaron Mellette and Marlon Brown are all vying for a spot behind Smith. I thought Doss and Thompson would be fighting for the No. 2 job at this point, but neither has shown much this preseason. The only receiver who can been ruled out is David Reed, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday.
3. Rebound time for Jimmy Smith: There was a sense that the Ravens wanted Smith, a 2011 first-round pick, to assert himself and take a starting job this summer. That hasn't happened. Smith struggled against Atlanta last week, when quarterback Matt Ryan relentlessly targeted him. Although Smith didn't get the inside help that he expected, the coaching staff pointed out that Smith didn't play well and needed to work on his technique.
Smith may have not won a starting job even if he played better. Corey Graham has played extremely well and isn't about to lose his starting job after working so hard to prove he's more than a Pro Bowl special-teams player. Lardarius Webb has a chance to play in his first game since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament 10 months ago. If Webb can show he's healthy enough to start, Smith will likely be the Ravens' No. 3 corner.