Scouting report for Sunday's Ravens-Panthers game

RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Joe Flacco excelled in the two-minute offense Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, leading the Ravens on touchdown drives at the end of each half. With 2,067 passing yards through seven games, he’s on pace for a career high, and his passer rating of 88.5 would be his best since 2014. Wide receiver John Brown is on pace for a career-best season after catching seven passes for 134 yards against the Saints, and he ranks third in the NFL with an average of 19.9 yards per catch. The offensive line continues to keep Flacco clean, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda grading among the best pass blockers at their positions, according to Pro Football Focus.

PANTHERS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Cam Newton has been efficient this season, completing 65.6 percent of his passes and throwing just four interceptions in six games. Devin Funchess is the team’s top wide receiver, with 29 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Christian McCaffrey is Newton’s most efficient option, with 40 catches on 46 targets. Former Maryland standout D.J. Moore has 13 catches for 191 yards in his rookie season. The Panthers don’t have a high-volume passing attack, ranking just 22nd in the league in yards through the air.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens have yet to get untracked on the ground as their running backs combined for just 41 yards on 16 attempts against the Saints. They’re averaging 3.4 yards per carry on the season, second-worst in the league. Alex Collins was their breakout offensive star last season, when he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. But he’s down to 3.6 in 2018. Rookie linemen Orlando Brown Jr. and Bradley Bozeman both graded poorly as run blockers in their first career starts, according to Pro Football Focus.

PANTHERS RUNNING GAME: This is the strength of the Carolina offense. McCaffrey has taken a significant step forward in his second season, averaging 4.8 yards a carry. And Newton is always a threat with his legs, averaging 4.9 yards a carry and serving as the team’s top short-yardage option. The Panthers rank fourth in the league in total rushing yards and first in yards per attempt.

EDGE: Panthers

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RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens allow the seventh fewest rushing yards per game and the fifth fewest yards per attempt. The Saints hurt them by mixing in running plays for backup quarterback Taysom Hill. But that won’t be a factor against the Panthers, with Newton himself serving as a power running threat. The Ravens’ interior defenders, Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Brent Urban, continue to receive excellent run-defense grades from Pro Football Focus.

PANTHERS RUSH DEFENSE: The Panthers have been above-average here, allowing the ninth fewest rushing yards per game in the league. Only two teams, the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins, have run for more than 100 yards against them. They’re led by one of the best run defenders in the league in linebacker Luke Kuechly. Defensive tackle Kawann Short and safety Eric Reid also grade well against the run, according to Pro Football Focus.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Even after their loss to Drew Brees and the Saints, the Ravens lead the league in sacks, allow the second-fewest passing yards per game and rank as the NFL’s second-stingiest defense on third down. They missed cornerback Marlon Humphrey against the Saints. Jimmy Smith struggled when pressed into full-time duty. Brandon Carr has continued to play well at the other corner.

PANTHERS PASS DEFENSE: The Panthers rank 17th in the league in passing yards per game and 22nd in passing yards per play, but they’ve generally prevented opposing quarterbacks from having huge performances. They intercepted Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton four times in a 31-21 win in Week 3. Their secondary does not feature any coverage standouts, according to Pro Football Focus, and they rank 18th in the league in sacks. At age 38, Julius Peppers remains their best edge defender.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: The unaccustomed struggles continued on Sunday as the Ravens allowed the Saints to convert a fourth-down attempt on a fake punt, and Justin Tucker missed an extra point that could have tied the game in the last minute. Tucker has made 13 of 15 field-goal attempts on the season, with his only misses coming on blocks. Sam Koch ranks third in the NFL with 17 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

PANTHERS SPECIAL TEAMS: Graham Gano has made all eight of his field-goal attempts, highlighted by a 63-yard game-winner against the New York Giants. But he has missed two extra-point attempts. Michael Palardy ranks 11th in net yards per punt, one spot behind Koch. He’s dropped 13 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Moore has averaged 5.3 yards on six punt returns and 22 yards on two kick returns.

EDGE: Panthers

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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens are looking for their third road win of the season after a difficult 24-23 loss at home to the New Orleans Saints. Two of their most impressive performances of the season, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans, came away from home. In their one previous game against Newton in 2014, they beat the Panthers 38-10 in Baltimore.

PANTHERS INTANGIBLES: The Panthers are 9-2 at home over the last two seasons and rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. But that was their only win this season against a 2017 playoff team, and they’ve won just one game by a double-digit margin. Coach Ron Rivera is 19 games over .500 in his eight seasons with the Panthers. He and Ravens coach John Harbaugh worked on the same staff for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999 to 2003.

EDGE: Even

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PREDICTION: The Panthers are tough to beat at home and solid on both sides of the ball, led by a unique quarterback in the massive, mobile Newton. This figures to be a close game but one in which the smothering Baltimore defense recovers from a poor fourth quarter against the Saints. Led by that defense and an efficient performance from Flacco, the Ravens will pick up a badly needed road win, 23-20.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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