Previewing Ravens vs. Panthers: 7 things to watch, including Baker Mayfield’s return, Roquan Smith and more

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			Previewing Ravens vs. Panthers: 7 things to watch, including Baker Mayfield’s return, Roquan Smith and more
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After nine grueling games, the Ravens’ bye week and first week back went mostly as planned.

Just four players, three of them projected starters, were listed as questionable on the team’s injury report for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is expected to play despite missing practice Friday with an illness, All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews practiced fully for the first time in a month, and running back Gus Edwards could be nearing a return to action.

Still, the Ravens (6-3) should have some margin for error in Baltimore. The Panthers (3-7) are starting one of the league’s most inaccurate quarterbacks and struggling with injuries in their secondary. Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 11 matchup.

Offense

1. Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson’s football lives have long been intertwined. Mayfield was a Heisman Trophy finalist when Jackson won the award in 2016, and Jackson was a finalist when Mayfield was crowned in 2017.

Both were taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, with the Browns making Mayfield their top overall pick and the Ravens trading back into the first round to select Jackson at No. 32 overall.

Both quickly became fixtures in the AFC North. Mayfield started 13 games as a rookie for Cleveland in 2018, helping lead the Browns to their best record since 2007. Jackson took over for the injured Joe Flacco and started seven games for the Ravens, who won their first AFC North title since 2012.

But in recent years, their paths have diverged. Jackson was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2019 and added a second Pro Bowl honor last season. He’s in line for a lucrative contract extension next offseason. Mayfield, meanwhile, was traded to the Panthers after a disappointing 2021 season, a deal facilitated by his decision to take a $3.5 million pay cut.

“I did think Baker would be a Brownie for life, so it will be a little different seeing those colors,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said Wednesday. “I thought the Lamar-Baker thing would be a long time.”

Sunday’s could be their last meeting as starters. While Jackson again finds himself in the MVP conversation, Mayfield is last in the NFL in ESPN’s QBR metric. He’s 1-4 as a starter for Cleveland, completing just 56.6% of his passes, and will lead Carolina’s offense into M&T Bank Stadium only because of an ankle injury to P.J. Walker.

2. Sunday’s game could be a get-right game for Ravens wide receivers, who have combined for just 37 catches and 380 yards over the past five games.

Carolina’s top corner, 2021 first-round pick Jaycee Horn, is expected to play but was limited in practice Wednesday. Fellow starting cornerback Donte Jackson suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear in Week 10. And the Panthers could be without safeties Jeremy Chinn, Myles Hartsfield and Juston Burris, who’ve combined for 14 starts this season. Burris (concussion) has already been ruled out, another blow to an already struggling pass defense.

The Ravens will continue to rely on tight ends in their passing game, but they should be bolstered by the return to health of Demarcus Robinson, who was a full participant in practice this week. A groin injury hampered the veteran wide receiver ahead of the team’s Week 9 win over the New Orleans Saints.

“I really think our receivers are doing a great job, a lot of unheralded stuff that they’re doing,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday, praising players like Robinson. “If you look at, like, last week, for example, against the Saints, I think we completed passes to 10 different players. I’m in heaven when that happens because, A, everyone’s involved, everyone’s contributing, and, B, if you’re the defense, who are you going to stop? I definitely think that mindset’s good for us.”

Defense

3. After three straight 1,100-yard seasons, Carolina wide receiver DJ Moore has fallen short of expectations this year. The former Maryland star and 2018 first-round pick has 39 catches on 77 targets — a 50.6% catch rate that would be the lowest of his career — for three touchdowns and 478 receiving yards, an average of 12.3 yards per reception that would also be the lowest of his career.

Moore’s best stretch coincided with Mayfield’s absence. Walker has a passer rating of 84.5 (19-for-35 for 252 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) when targeting Moore this season; Mayfield’s rating when looking for his top receiver is just 51.4 (19-for-41 for 225 yards, a touchdown and an interception).

“He’s one of the best receivers in football,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday of Moore. “He’s a great route runner; he runs all the routes. He’ll block, he runs the wide screens. He’s kind of ‘Public Enemy No. 1′ outside, along with [wide receiver Laviska] Shenault [Jr.], so he’s doing a great job.”

4. Sunday’s game will reunite the Ravens with center Bradley Bozeman, who started 49 games over four seasons in Baltimore. Bozeman was considered one of the better centers available ahead of free agency this March, but a competitive market never developed. He ultimately signed a one-year, $2.8 million deal with Carolina.

After Pat Elflein was named the Panthers’ starting center to open the season, Bozeman was limited to special teams work. But when a hip injury sidelined Elflein before Carolina’s Week 7 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bozeman took over. He’s played every offensive snap over the past four games and has graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ best centers in that span.

“It’s been fun watching him on tape,” Harbaugh said Friday. “Playing very well, just like he always plays. Obviously, it’ll be a big challenge for us, but a lot of respect for Brad and very grateful for all the things he did here as a player.”

5. Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith didn’t need long to pick up a new defensive playbook — just two days, according to coordinator Mike Macdonald. “It’s a piece of cake for him,” Macdonald said Thursday. “It’s easy for him.”

Smith played every defensive snap for the Chicago Bears this season before being dealt at the trade deadline. With only a week to learn the Ravens’ scheme, the two-time All-Pro played 39 of the team’s 51 defensive snaps against the Saints. The bye week gave Smith even more time to prepare for his home opener.

“Just definitely getting more comfortable by the day,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just excited. Still learning little things here and there, but I’m excited for where I’m going and where we’re going.”

Smith has plenty of resources. After practice Thursday, he sat next to inside linebacker Josh Bynes at the veteran’s locker, seemingly going over notes on a handful of papers.

Extra points

6. Longtime referee Jerome Boger, whose crew is scheduled to officiate Sunday’s game, will be back in Baltimore for the first time since a controversial Week 4 call.

A roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive back Brandon Stephens late in the Ravens’ loss to the Bills kept Buffalo from facing a second-and-15 at the Ravens’ 41-yard line in its eventual game-winning drive. Boger said afterward that Stephens had made “forcible contact” with the head and neck area of quarterback Josh Allen. Rules analysts like CBS’ Gene Steratore, and most Ravens fans, disagreed.

7. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 24-6 at home in November. They’re also 11-3 after a bye week and 31-14 with at least seven days’ rest since he took over in 2018.

Week 11

Panthers at Ravens

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 45

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 13

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