Who better to ask about the opponent than the beat writers in there with them every day. Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times and National Football Post was kind enough to answer five questions about the Ravens in advance of Sunday's game at the Panthers:
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1. How much gas does MLB Ray Lewis have left in his tank? Seems like he’s still playing at an exceptionally high level. Have you noticed any drop-off at all in him?
Although All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis still does perform at an extremely high level, has maintained his conditioning and remains very instinctive and hard-hitting, there has been a noticeable difference from him as far as being more vulnerable in pass coverage now.
It's not like he's picked on regularly or targeted frequently, but he's much less of a threat to break up a pass or intercept one than he was when he was younger. Nonetheless, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year is still a force and the emotional leader of the Ravens.
2. Going back to 2007, why was Joe Flacco able to avoid the usual rookie learning curve. What is it about a guy from Delaware that enabled him to have such early success, and how has he developed since then?
Joe Flacco is unusually poised for a small-school player. He's very quiet, but is also very composed and calm on the field. He's a smart guy who works hard and is known as a gym rat, always haunting the Ravens' training complex.
This is a grounded New Jersey guy with a dry sense of humor. He's rarely rattled and has good composure and toughness. I think he succeeded quickly because he never panicked or over-thought things. He was also fortunate to go to a strong organization with a good offensive line and proven receivers.
3. Is general manager Ozzie Newsome the best in the league at what he does? For a team and a city not regarded as high-profile or big-market, seemed like he had guys lining up wanting to come there this offseason.
Ozzie Newsome is a very strong general manager with a knack for the draft, particularly the first round. He has also hit on several lower-round draft picks and undrafted free agents.
He's very well-respected around the league and had a better offseason than usual with bringing in veterans, especially the trade for Anquan Boldin.
4. Speaking of offseason additions, a lot of people in Charlotte were pining for Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. How have they fit into the passing game there?
Boldin has fit in ideally, providing a consistent downfield target. He's as advertised. Houshmandzadeh hasn't produced much or been called upon to have a major role. He's now being pushed for the third receiver role by Donte' Stallworth.
With the exception of his game-winning touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houshmandzadeh's impact has been negligible. Not surprisingly, the former Pro Bowl receiver has been unhappy about his limited role and has expressed that sentiment several times to anyone who wants to ask about his status.
5. Bottom line: Ravens, are they Super Bowl contenders or not?
Conditionally, yes. There are legitimate questions, though, about the cornerback position, a lack of a consistent pass rush, tackling bigger backs and the offense not really being turned loose by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
To win the Super Bowl, the pass coverage needs to improve markedly and the Ravens may need to shed their conservative approach offensively and try to outscore teams.
While this is still a stingy, good defense, it no longer qualifies as great by any objective measuring stick.