Saturday, October 14, 2006

RAVENS TO DEFEAT PANTHERS

Anita Marks asked me while sitting in on her MASN show and after I predicted a Ravens win on Monday Night against Denver if I’ve picked against the Ravens yet this season. The question she was not so subtly asking was really, “Can I letgo of being a fan and objectively predict the game’s outcome?”

The fact of the matter is I did pick the Ravens to lose the opener against Tampa. I was wrong.

I was also wrong on Monday Night when I predicted a 19-13 Ravens win over the Broncos.

But other than that, I have picked the Ravens to win every game.This week is no different.

So why do I think the Ravens will win?

Let’s start with a cursory look at the Panthers.

Carolina has the league’s 23rd best offense and 25th best passing attack. The Ravens are second overall defensively and third best at defending the run and the pass. The Panthers have shown a willingness to maximum protect, holding in 7 blockers with only 3 out in patterns. The thinking is that if given enough time, Steve Smith will find a way to get open regardless of double teaming.

That might be good in theory but the realities of the situation are that the Panthers are a bit nicked up on the offensive line. Jordan Gross has been forced to the left side after anchoring the RT position for 3 seasons. Center Justin Hartwig will try and tough out a groin injury. The Ravens might test his mobility with blitzes up the gut with Bart Scott.The Ravens are also pretty good at bracketing top shelf receivers. Word is that Smith will command the attention of Samari Rolle with top sidehelp from Ed Reed while Chris McAlister marks Keyshawn Johnson. That’s not a bad plan and with little threat at the tight end position, the Panthers won’t be able to keep the Ravens backers honest and Dawan Landry will be able to cheat up in the box to support the run, the strength ofCarolina’s offense.

Unfortunately, that’s also the strength of the Ravens defense.On the other side of the ball, the Ravens offensive struggles are well chronicled and until proven wrong, expect John Fox’ defenders to load up the box. That might put slumping CB Ken Lucas at risk on an island. I’m looking for the Ravens to go at him with some high percentage 3 and 5 step drop passes on first down. Setting up second and 6 or so will keep the ravenous Panther defensive line honest and it will allow the Ravens to open up their play book and get the running game untracked somewhat.

Productivity on first down might also make the Panthers vulnerable to playaction. Linebacker Thomas Davis is a converted safety and has some cover skills but bluffing the run might be all Todd Heap needs to get his 6’5”frame down the seam with the centerfield safety likely looking to support corners Lucas or Chris Gamble.

Here are my keys to the game:
1. Contain Smith…prevent the homerun and protect against double moves
2. Keep Delhomme in the pocket
3. Win first down on offense to help neutralize Julius Peppers and leave the Ravens with options
4. Naturally, protect the football

Do this and the Ravens will emerge victoriously.

I’m calling it Ravens 20, Panthers 16.

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