Panthers at Ravens 8 p.m., ESPN

Panthers' game against Super Bowl champs Ravens is ultimate barometer

jjones@charlotteobserver.comAugust 21, 2013 

— Dwan Edwards doesn’t expect to feel much nostalgia Thursday night when he visits his old team.

Baltimore drafted the defensive tackle in 2004 and he played five seasons with the Ravens. He looks forward to seeing some of his old teammates, but other than that, it’s “just another preseason game.”

Well, sort of.

The third game of the preseason is the one where most teams play their starters between two and three quarters rather than trotting them out for a couple of series. And this isn’t just any third preseason game for the Carolina Panthers: They’ll be playing the defending Super Bowl champions, on the road, in prime time, on national television.

“I think it’ll definitely be a good test for our team to see where we’re at and how we’re progressing and getting better,” Edwards said. “They’re a helluva team. Obviously they’re Super Bowl champions, and they’ll be Super Bowl champions until someone knocks them off. It’ll be a good test for us.”

The Ravens look like a decidedly different team this year than the group that went 10-6 and won Super Bowl XLVII in February. Baltimore lost nine players with starting experience to either retirement or free agency, including linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and wide receiver Anquan Boldin. But the Ravens were able to replace a lot of that talent with additions like defensive end Chris Canty, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and receiver Brandon Stokley.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he’s looking forward to how his team reacts to a top-tier defense that, through just two preseason games, has shown nearly its entire playbook for the regular season.

“They lost the middle of their defense in losing (Lewis) and Reed, I think they’re solid guys,” Rivera said. “You watch them and they’re still flying around, they’re still doing a lot of things. Schematically, it looks like they’ve thrown their whole playbook in. You break them down, they’re blitzing from everywhere, they’re using all their combination coverages. It’s going to be a great challenge for us as far as where our offense is against their defense.”

The Panthers underperformed last week by not scoring a touchdown against a Philadelphia defense that has a new defensive coordinator and few stars on that side of the ball.

Rivera hinted the Panthers might open up their offensive playbook a little more than in previous games. The read option has been nonexistent, Cam Newton hasn’t taken a single designed quarterback run and play action has barely been utilized by the Panthers this preseason.

“You’re going to play your first bunch a little longer and you’ve had a little more time to put the rest of the installation in,” Rivera said. “As we go forward, it’s time to throw some of those things in and see how we do.”

The Panthers defense is expecting the same physical, rush-oriented Ravens offense that has produced 71 points through two preseason games.

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly figures running back Ray Rice will play a larger role in the Ravens’ offense Thursday night. Rice, a three-time Pro Bowler who has rushed for more than 1,100 yards each of the past four seasons, has just 11 carries this preseason

Stopping Rice will be key for the Panthers, who struggled against the Eagles’ running game due to their fast-tempo, no-huddle offense. Philadelphia posted 108 rushing yards in the first half against Carolina’s first-team defense but only managed 14 points due to three turnovers.

Kuechly said it’s a good sign that, even though the defense didn’t play well, they still managed to create three turnovers and allow two scores. But he knows they’ll have to be better against the rushing attack of the defending Super Bowl champs.

“(Philadelphia) was hitting us on creases, we weren’t where we needed to be, but we watched the film and the kind of things we were doing wrong, we were out of our gaps,” Kuechly said. “We got to get it corrected so that in the future it’s not a problem.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service