1. Fast and furious: The Ravens have been absolutely dreadful coming out of the blocks on the road. The stats are staggering, including going scoreless in the first quarter in four out of five road games they have played this season. That trend needs to change against Carolina on Sunday.
The Ravens should look to pass on first down and establish a rhythm with quarterback Joe Flacco with pass completions off of play-action. Play-action fakes should be effective against a defense that will commit much of its attention to defending the run.
With Flacco, the short passing game should be emphasized, especially against the Carolina defense. Quick, underneath passes should be called on first down to get Flacco feeling comfortable early.
If the Ravens are able to score early, they could take some of the fight out of a wounded Panthers team and rely on their running the rest of the way.
2. Attacking the safeties: The Panthers are vulnerable in a number of areas, but they are solid on the outside with their cornerbacks, Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble. However, the safeties, Sharrod Martin and Chris Godfrey, have been victimized at times this season.
The Ravens should stretch the seams and get their inside route runners in some one-on-one matchups against Martin and Godfrey. In a game like this, a speed demon like receiver Donte Stallworth could be an impossible cover from the slot. If he runs straight at either the free or strong safety, he will force the coverage to converge, allowing for the outside receivers to work against man coverage downfield.
Either way, Stallworth would be able to take advantage of his matchups or help open things up for Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.
3. Stick with the run: Ideally, the Ravens will be able to establish an early lead. Once they grab the lead, they need to hammer the Panthers on the ground.
Teams have been able to pound Carolina all year long. Due to injury and defection, the Panthers just don’t have the bulk to stand up to a physical pounding.
The key to succeeding against the Panthers is to get a hat on inside linebacker Jon Beason. Beason is still capable of being a force if he’s uncovered. If the interior offensive linemen are able to get to Beason and block him at the second level, the Baltimore backs could be poised for a big day on the ground.
No matter where he lines up, a safety should always shade and close in a hurry. The only routes that Smith should have available are underneath routes.
The defensive backs should also be aware of any potential double moves that Smith may run.
2. Stops on first down: To improve a third down defense, a team must create longer conversion situations for the offense by winning on first and second down.
Against a Panthers team that will play conservative and stick with the run on first down, the Ravens must dominate. If they limit the yardage gained on first down, the Baltimore defenders should have a much easier time getting off the field on third down.
Despite the loss of their top two backs, Carolina still has a line built to win in the trenches. The Baltimore front seven has to stymie the run on first down at all costs.
3. Create turnovers: Another struggle on the road for the Ravens has been their inability to create turnovers. In five road games, Baltimore has only forced four turnovers. And against the Falcons last Sunday, they could not make a game-changing play to swing momentum and gain an extra possession.
This is a prime game to give the offense some extra possessions to score points. The Ravens should play aggressively, and the defense needs to rebound by finding the football.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch