Panthers vs. Ravens game preview: Will Cam Newton find a rhythm against Baltimore?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The defending Super Bowl champions host Cam Newton and Panthers on Thursday in the third preseason game of the year.

Following a pair of impressive performances to open the preseason, the Baltimore Ravens will attempt to keep rolling when they host the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. The Ravens are coming off back-to-back preseason wins while the Panthers are still trying to find some offensive rhythm.

The game will feature two quarterbacks having very different preseasons. After leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco has been impressive on his way to completing 14-of-18 passes for 175 yards. Cam Newton hasn't found that level of success yet, however, completing just 11 of his 23 passes for 128 yards.

Both Flacco and Newton figure to get extended playing time in the third preseason game, though, as their teams prepare for the regular season.

Meet the Ravens

The Ravens have plenty of new faces from the team that won the Super Bowl, but Baltimore appears to have picked up right where it left off. Flacco has been solid and the first-team defense has played well, despite replacing several key players.

After rolling to a 44-16 win in the preseason opener, Baltimore scored 20 points in the fourth quarter against the Falcons last week en route to a 27-23 win. Torrey Smith is having a strong preseason while assuming the role of No. 1 receiver, having caught two passes for 85 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.

Meet the Panthers

After opening the preseason with a 24-17 win over Chicago, Carolina stumbled last week, losing 14-9 to Philadelphia. The first-team offense got an extended look and struggled as Newton completed just 8-of-17 pass attempts for 112 yards.

The running attack struggled as well with DeAngelo Williams gaining just 39 yards on 12 attempts. Carolina has not scored an offensive touchdown in its last six quarters.

Local Takes: Ravens

The Ravens are still shuffling wide receivers, trying to decide on a depth chart. Scott Brown of Baltimore Beatdown noted the importance of this preseason game for some of the younger players.

This likely means that with starters playing well into the third quarter on Thursday against Carolina, guys like Brown, Mellette, Streeter and Williams will get opportunities to prove they deserve roster spots. But if none of them step up, the Ravens may have an easier decision to keep fewer receivers than initially anticipated.

Local Takes: Panthers

ESPN recently ranked Newton as the 100th best offensive player in the NFL. Evan Leekley of Cat Scratch Reader reacted to the ranking:

The answer is simple: The Carolina Panthers have not won enough football games. The media cannot get past this. It seems they are incapable of placing Newton's play in a vacuum and evaluating him on that. Instead, they are holding him accountable for the collective failure of the organization, or maybe they're simply too lazy to watch teams outside of New England, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, D.C., etc. You hate to play the 'small market' card here, but this ranking leaves you searching for answers.

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs linked above for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@BMoreBeatdown

@CatScratchReadr

@Ravens Insider -- Ravens beat writer

@josephperson -- Panthers beat writer

Odds

The Ravens opened as a 4-1/2-point favorite, according to Odds Shark, though they are now just a 3-point favorite. The total opened at 43½ before dropping to 42.

Next Week

Baltimore closes the preseason on the road against the St. Louis Rams. The Panthers will return home to host Pittsburgh in their final preseason game.

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Two Carries, Six Yards: The tragic story of Ricky Bell

Michael Vick wins starting job | Brandon Weeden, too

Chiefs acquire A.J. Jenkins from 49ers

Rob Gronkowski could return by Week 3

Longform: Olympian Marquise Goodwin seeks success on the gridiron

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