The Ravens (2-1) return home after a clutch performance in their first road game after downing a much improved Cleveland Browns team 23-21 on a the strength of a Justin Tucker field goal. They play their third home game in four weeks and welcome the NFC South champions for a season ago, the Carolina Panthers (2-1).

Carolina is looking to rebound after a 37-19 thrashing at the hands of the Steelers in prime-time. They will look to kickstart their running game which has been dismal so far in this young season. Which team moves to 3-1?

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Let’s take a look at a few of the key match-ups for this Sunday’s game:

Ravens Wide Receiver Steve Smith  vs.  Panthers Cornerback Antonie Cason

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that Smith would be my first point of emphasis for this game. Since he was signed by Baltimore after being let go after 13 seasons with Carolina, Senior has been crystal clear about his intentions going into this week four contest. He’s got plenty to prove and even though publicly the Panthers are downplaying the situation they will need to account for their former All-Pro this Sunday.

Smith has emerged as the Ravens top target so far leading the team in that category (32), while grabbing 18 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown. His clutch 32-yd catch last week in Cleveland set up the game winning field goal late in regulation. So far he’s been what was advertised, a feisty, savy vet with taste for winning and making plays.

Carolina will most likely counter with free agent Antonie Cason who played last season with Arizona. He had a team-best nine tackles and an interception in a 20-14 season-opening victory at Tampa Bay and has history with Head Coach Ron Rivera going back to San Diego. The Panthers have upgraded in size across the board in their secondary, now starting Cason (6-0) and Melvin White (6-1) on the corners, Thomas Decoud (6-2) and Roman Harper (6-1) at the safety spots. Will that size bother the 5’9″ Smith this weekend?

Ravens Left Tackle James Hurst  vs.  Panthers Defensive Ends Wes Horton/Mario Addison

In a bit of a surprise starting Left Tackle Eugene Monroe was announced as having “minor” knee surgery this week, which means that the Ravens will be without his services for “multiple weeks”. That means next man up is undrafted Tackle James Hurst. The Ravens have faith in the North Carolina product, who was a four-year starter for the Tar Heels and earned first-team All-ACC honors as a senior. Hurst has gotten a lot of reps this summer, including with the first team when Monroe has sat out.

Still this is the real deal and he’s sure to have some nerves playing his first pro game in front of the home crowd. At least Hurst won’t be thrown up against one of the best in the league in Greg Hardy, who is sidelined as he awaits jury trial over his domestic abuse case. He will have to keep the tandem of Wes Horton and Mario Addison at bay for the afternoon. Horton plays the early downs and is the run-stopper, while Addison plays on the passing downs and has 2.5 sacks so far.

The Ravens offensive line has played fairly well in the first few weeks and this is the first change to that starters due to injury. Can Hurst keep the running game humming and protect his quarterback? We will see what he can do.

Ravens Inside Linebacker C.J. Mosley  vs.  Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton

Newton has been off to a slow start due to recovering from multiple injuries. And even though he was fairly solid throwing the ball against Pittsburgh last week (24 for 35, 250, 1 TD) he has been unable to be the threat to run that he has been in the past. He only has 6 carries for 26 yards so far and with the Carolina running game ranked among the league’s worst the Panthers will need to find ways to move the ball besides Newton’s arm.

Mosley has been off to a solid start in his first season as a starter. He’s registered 23 tackles and forced a fumble in first three games. He’s also shown a penchant for rookie mistakes such as a late hit in week one against Gio Bernard and shoving Cleveland Center Alex Mack in the face last Sunday that drew a 15-yd penalty. Mosley may not have to worry about spying on Newton as much due to injury but it may be a good idea to include Mosley in some blitzes to get to Cam who hasn’t been able to scramble nearly as much as in the past.

Ravens Strong Safety Matt Elam  vs.  Panthers Tight End Greg Olsen

It’s pretty simple. The Ravens secondary must do a better job of executing the basics: like tackling. They’ve accounted for 13 of the Ravens’ 23 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus and Elam leads the team with 4 along with Asa Jackson. He’s coming off perhaps his worst performance as pro last week in Cleveland where he was victimized on several big plays either due to poor technique or poor communication.

With all the changes to the Panthers receiving corps, one constant is Olsen who is off to a good start. Olsen is a top 10 receiving tight end in the NFL so far (19 – 224 – 2 TDs) and is a big part of the Panthers attack. Elam and his mates must improve because Olsen is likely a big part of the game plan.

Matt Jergensen
Matt Jergensen

Matt is a lifelong Maryland resident and graduate of both Calvert Hall and Towson University. Before joining BSL, Matt worked as the Senior Site Editor for Baltimore Gridiron Report, providing commentary and analysis. He’s also written articles for Russell Street Report, and has appeared as a guest on 1370AM. Matt Co-Hosts Ravens Rap weekly with Mike Randall. Matt currently lives in Bel Air, just minutes away from his job teaching high school history and economics for Harford County Public Schools.