Panthers vs. Ravens: Key Matchups

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers will face the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in their home stadium on Thursday. This will be the closest to regular season play that we will see up until week 1 versus Seattle. The first two preseason games came as more of an evaluation, as the Panthers defeated the Bears while falling to an Eagles team that is arguably still finding its identity. We take a look at the key matchups to a Panthers win, and what the possible effects could become.

The Panthers last week faced an Eagles team that was installing a new offensive AND defensive playbook this entire offseason. Its easy to jump and say "THE SKY IS FALLING" for the Panthers, but in reality we know to a certain extent what the Panthers will look like in 2013. Most fans can guess our starting 11 on offense week 1, and the defense seems pretty much set minus a few question marks at cornerback and the availability of Jon Beason at linebacker. Carolina faced an Eagles team still finding its own identity, having made the switch to an up-tempo offense and a 3-4 defense not seen in Philadelphia for a long time. So maybe that game can be written off as a simple preseason game, but this one could be the biggest indicator of the strengths and weaknesses on the roster.

Jordan Gross/Byron Bell vs. Terrell Suggs/Elvis Dumervil

Last week seemed like a long week for the offensive line, but this week is definitely the best front four/five we will see in the preseason. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs return with the added additions of Chris Canty at 5-tech defensive end and Elvis Dumervil at Sam linebacker. The pass rush could be a major issue for Carolina here.

Arguably the biggest issue of the offseason has been the lack of talent at offensive tackle. Jordan Gross and Byron Bell will return at the left and right tackle positions (respectively), where a noticeable dip in production from Gross has become a problem. Byron Bell also boasts a shaky track record at best as far as pass blocking goes for Cam Newton. This will be a big indicator of whats to come for Carolina in 2013, where they will start off facing a formidable front seven in Seattle. The Carolina quarterbacks as a whole have seemed to be under duress way more frequently than is considered okay, and Cam Newton is our biggest playmaker. Look for Carolina to try and use more play action this week to keep Cam upright, but we will see exactly where our tackle situation is this Thursday.

Captain Munnerlyn vs. Jacoby Jones

It seems to be set for the beginning of the season that Drayton Florence will cover the opposing team's number one receiver. Logically speaking, this makes sense. Florence is the most veteran defensive back on roster, and his wealth of experience will be useful. He will still struggle against the more elite receivers, but we are going to get what we paid for until a younger buck steps up and shows that we can count on them. However, the second receiver position is more of a question mark. Captain Munnerlyn is slated as the number two corner on the depth chart, but certainly hasn't played as such this offseason.

Many fans question this move, though I am under the impression that Rivera is giving the veteran nod here until he feels he can count on someone else. Josh Norman has been the biggest impact player in the secondary each preseason game, and is hot on ole Cap's heels. Munnerlyn should get a decent chance to shine against Jacoby Jones. Jones has always been more inclined to returns, but the lack of a threat at the receiver position puts Jones as the number two receiver. Look for Munnerlyn to continue to get a decent amount of snaps, as Carolina evaluates Munnerlyn's status, along with Josh Norman and Josh Thomas looking to snag the starting role.

Luke Kuechly vs. Ray Rice

This matchup figures to be more of an evaluation of the entire front seven, rather than the two at question. Ray Rice played a major role in the Ravens' Super Bowl run, while Kuechly played a major role in turning a bad defense into (at the very, very least) a respectable one. With the drafting of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, along with the veteran addition of Chase Blackburn and return of Jon Beason, Kuechly's supporting cast is much better this season. But the Baltimore front seven is nothing to shake a stick at, with a possible return from Marshal Yanda and an already formidable rushing attack.

The entire front seven struggled against the quick hit Philadelphia offense, and more specifically Lesean McCoy, last week. Ray Rice is a weapon in all aspects of the offensive game, and Kuechly keeping him contained is uber-important if Carolina wants to bounce back from last week's trouncing. Don't expect many big "wow" plays from the Ravens playbook however. I figure that they will keep their play-calls about as vanilla as Carolina has on offense, seeing as they also have an established identity going into 2013.

Corey Graham/Jimmy Smith vs. Ted Ginn/David Gettis

It's been said time and time again. Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith are permanent-markered in as the number one and two receivers in Charlotte. However, the number three battle has been quite interesting since the start of the offseason. Originally, Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn were brought in as insurance for a receving core filled with question marks. Hixon has battled injury the entire offseason, where Gettis and Edwards have emerged as legitimate receiving threats thus far. Gettleman's quote that "the answer could be on the roster" is truly applicable in this situation. We started the offseason with many saying (and with good reason) that Hixon had the in for the spot. Now, the receivers mentioned have the chance to take the spot.

Corey Graham hails from the same Chicago as DJ Moore nearly two seasons back, capturing the spot on the Ravens' depth chart as the number two corner. Jimmy Smith is also a very talented player, and they will look to shut down the Panthers receivers. Armanti Edwards has been the story of training camp. David Gettis has been the story of the preseason games, with Ginn getting his recognition in both areas. This will be a good test to see who sticks at the spot prior to the regular season.

Who do you think is a player to watch Panthers fans? Name him in the comments!

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