NFL GAME PREVIEW

Week 4 Game Scout: Panthers vs. Ravens

The Sports Xchange

September 25, 2014 at 8:33 am.

Joe Flacco leads the Ravens offense. (Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Carolina Panthers (2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore — TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn

*Keys to the game: The Panthers’ 29th-ranked ground game is in rough shape with QB Cam Newton not as mobile as normal as he nurses his rib injury, short-yardage back Mike Tolbert on short-term IR and RBs Jonathan Stewart (ankle), DeAngelo Williams (hamstring) and Fozzy Whittaker (quad) all in various stages of their own ailments. Who out of the trio will be available Sunday might not be known until game day, but Newton has largely been left to move the ball through the air to TE Greg Olsen and his revamped group of wideouts in a one-dimensional attack.

Meanwhile, the Panthers’ run defense is coming off the third-worst performance in franchise history in allowing Pittsburgh to rumble for 264 yards. Carolina gets another physical test from the AFC North in the Ravens, who have been effective plugging and playing a trio of running backs in Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and now rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. That makeshift offensive line from 2013 is now paving good running lanes and setting the table for QB Joe Flacco to distribute the ball to new favorite target Steve Smith.

*Matchup to watch — Panthers CBs Melvin White and Antoine Cason vs. Ravens WR Steve Smith: Smith admitted to circling this date on his calendar upon signing with Baltimore following his controversial release by Carolina after 13 seasons. He has 18 catches for 290 yards through three games and knows the weaknesses of White, who he went up against in practice last season, while Cason is a free-agent addition trying to prove he is a legitimate starter.

*Player spotlight — Ravens FB Kyle Juszcyzyk: The 6-foot-1, 248-pounder has a burly frame and is key presence in the Ravens’ power ground game. He has also displayed good hands, catching three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland in Week 3.

*Fast facts: After allowing one 100-yard rusher in their previous 22 games, the Panthers allowed two in their Week 2 loss to Pittsburgh. … Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will be without his good friend and starting tight end Dennis Pitta, who dislocated his hip against the Browns and will miss the rest of the season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

A motivated Steve Smith has always been an especially dangerous weapon. With Baltimore hammering away at a front seven that was exposed in Week 2, it creates opportunities for Smith to make his statement with big plays courtesy of play-action.

*Our pick: Ravens 20-17