John Harbaugh isn't going to pretend it's imperative that the Baltimore Ravens beat the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.
If winning was important, the defending Super Bowl champions would be looking at game film and studying the tendencies of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. None of that occurred before Baltimore faced Atlanta last week or before the preseason opener against Tampa Bay.
"We haven't game-planned either one of these games," Harbaugh said. "The last game, we just looked at them for one day, a little bit what they do, and played what we would call a camp game. We're not trying to scheme anything. We're just trying to get good at the fundamentals and then evaluate our players."
Harbaugh intends to play most of his starters into the third quarter. The hope is that they perform better than against Atlanta, when the offense and defense struggled during a lackluster first half.
After watching the Ravens fall behind the Falcons 20-7 at intermission, Harbaugh had a quick analysis of what he just saw.
"That first half was about as poorly as we can play," Harbaugh said. "I can't remember us playing worse since we came here."
His assessment didn't change much after he had a few days to review the performance.
"We didn't play fundamentally very well, and that's the issue," Harbaugh said. "I'm not worried about scheme or result as much as how you play. And we put ourselves in a hole too much to even get a look at ourselves. You can't be in first-and-25. You can't turn the ball over. All of those things we've got to do a better job of."
Even though the Ravens won both their first two preseason games, the object in this one is to put on a good show for the coaching staff because few, if any, of the starters will be playing against St. Louis next week in the preseason finale.
"I think it's very important just for us to play well, more so than anything else," offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "Any unit that takes the field, we want them to go out there and be in sync, move the ball and put some points on the board. We're looking forward to that. In the third game, typically you end up playing a little bit more. It depends on what John wants to do in that regard, but we want to see our effectiveness and our execution climb up a notch or two."
Harbaugh said, "We want to play good, solid football. We've done that at times but we haven't been consistent this preseason so far. We'd like to see that."
There will be more players to evaluate this time, because wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark are expected to get extended time after signing contracts last week. Stokley saw limited action last week and Clark did not play.
In his two games thus far, quarterback Joe Flacco is 14 for 18 for 175 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He's still getting used to a receiving corps that is without two of his favorite targets of a year ago, Anquan Boldin (traded) and Dennis Pitta (injured).
"Some of the guys are young guys that are new, some of the guys are older guys — like Stokley and Dallas — that he's getting a feel for," Caldwell said. "He's got his work cut out for him in that regard, but I think you can see them starting to blend and jell."
On defense, the Ravens are hoping to get a solid pass rush from Terrell Suggs and newcomer Elvis Dumervil, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will wait until before the Sept. 5 opener in Denver to begin devising a plan to get the most out of the two.
"We'll find out when the games start getting played for real," Harbaugh said. "That's when we'll find out if it's what we hoped for. They're both the real deal. Suggs is rushing the passer better than I've seen in the time I've been here. And obviously, Elvis Dumervil is as good as advertised."
On the back end of the defense, top draft pick Matt Elam has been solid. If he continues to show improvement, then the Ravens just might forget about safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed, who became a salary-cap casualties.
"He's fast and he's tough," Pees said of Elam. "That's what you want in a strong safety. The guy will come hit you. . He still makes the rookie mistakes and stuff that eventually he will get rid of."