Attack the base
The Panthers, traditionally, have preferred to stay in their base 4-3 defense as much as possible. Because of their past talent at linebacker, they were able to generate pressure with a standard four-man rush. This season, however, they are giving up 7.5 yards per play in their base defense. They just haven’t been able to generate quite that level of pressure which has forced them to blitz more often (Top 5 in 2nd and 3rd down blitz percentage, per PFF).
The Ravens can take advantage of this by coming out in 12 (1 RB/2 TE) personnel with their rookie tight ends in tight or in the backfield creating a false sense of comfort for the defense, then morphing into three- or four-receiver look. 11 personnel is the Ravens’ preferred grouping, but if there isn’t a threat at tight end it doesn’t create enough gravity to win the matchup. I know asking so much of two rookies, one coming off an extended absence, isn’t ideal, but the snaps have to start to leaning more in their direction for the sake of extending drives.
Play close attention to Jackson
He didn’t have the best of starts to the season but he’s bounced back strong the last few games. The small but ultra-aggressive and athletic Donte Jackson leads the Panthers with three interceptions on the young season. Because of his track-level speed, he doesn’t require the cushion others have needed when facing up with John Brown, which compromises those underneath throws Joe Flacco has taken advantage of. If he’s late with said throws this week not only could it lead to an interception but it could lead to a quick six.
Stop letting off the gas
Nothing is more frustrating than watching eight or nine-yard gains on first down be then followed up with a telegraphed run into a crowded box. This Panther pass rush is not one to be overly fearful of. While the Ravens have vastly improved their skill position group, it’s still a pedestrian group that won’t overwhelm or out-scheme (sigh) defenses in obvious passing situations. Breaking tendencies will be key.
Routes out of the backfield
Facing pass game maven Alvin Kamara last week, the Ravens underneath defenders seemed to be on notice as it pertained to his movement out of the backfield, and deservedly so. Week 8 should be no different. The Panthers will send Christian McCaffrey out on all sorts of flat, angle and stab routes to steal first downs and create advantageous matchups. Defenders should react swiftly but under control, using the sideline effectively. Over-pursuing a flat route that’s actually an angle route probably isn’t the best idea generally but especially not with someone as dangerous as CMC. The Ravens also need to be on manufactured touch alert with DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel fully capable of game-changing open field plays.
Disrupt timing in the short game
Carolina likes to utilize short timing patterns off play action as a way to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers. They also attempt the fewest amount of passes 20+ yards downfield in the NFL, and the Ravens can disrupt some of this by challenging the receivers at the line. They could also take a page out of their last opponent’s book and have their edge defenders check their backs and tight ends around the line of scrimmage. Wink Martindale has done a good job crowding the A-gap then backing out after the snap – that would be useful in this spot as well.
Hurry up alert
It was the seldom-used no-huddle offense that jumpstarted the Panthers comeback last week in Philly. Because of Cam’s mobility and all the interchangeable pieces they have at the skill positions, I’m surprised they don’t use it more often. In a small sample size, Cam has completed 13 of his 18 attempts with a 139 passer rating and 9.6 yards gained per attempt – that dwarfs his overall 6.8 average. When asked about it Ron Rivera downplayed the possibility of it becoming a staple of their attack, but since when do we trust coaches to tell the truth?
While it’s not something I’d necessarily expect a huge dose of, it’s certainly something to file away, especially if the Panthers offense is stifled early.
Matchup to watch
Tony Jefferson vs Greg Olsen
Greg Olsen has returned from his injury playing virtually every snap and looks every bit as he did pre-injury. The Ravens have shown some vulnerability to the position and now face their toughest test of the season. Tony Jefferson won’t be on his own obviously but it will be important that he shows some of the man coverage ability on Olsen that he showed versus tight ends during his Arizona days.
Not only will Cam likely target him often, but because of the difficult matchups he’ll have outside, Olsen will probably see a bump in activity.