How soon is too soon to fall in love?
In the debut of new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's new system, the Ravens marched 80 yards and scored a touchdown on the first drive in Thursday's preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Ten plays, 80 yards in just less than five minutes.
That was all Head Coach John Harbaugh needed to see from his first-team offense for one night. Harbaugh pulled quarterback Joe Flacco and company after one impressive drive.
The Ravens went on to beat the 49ers, 23-3, to open up the 2014 season and take a good feeling into a three-day weekend of practices against the other Harbaugh squad.
"The execution by the offense on our first drive was what we like to see," Harbaugh said at halftime. "Our technique and assignments were sharp. It was good, fundamentally sound football."
Teams generally don't want to show too much in the preseason because they don't want to give regular-season opponents much tape to study. That's particularly the case this year with the Ravens having a new offensive system.
But Flacco said he wasn't aware of any specific limits.
"I don't think we were necessarily holding anything back or trying to show anything in particular," he said.
The first-team offense showed a bit of everything in a balanced attack of five passes and five rushes.
Flacco looked crisp and confident, completing 4-of-5 passes for 52 yards to four different targets.
Running back Ray Rice, looking noticeably quicker and more elusive than last year, scampered three times for 17 yards. The zone-stretch scheme consistently yielded positive carries of 6, 5, 7, 6 and 2 yards, chronologically.
"It felt good to get out there and show that I still have a burst," Rice said.
The running successfully set up the play-action. After a 6-yard run by Rice on the first play, Flacco faked a handoff and dumped a wide receiver screen pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, who ran up the sideline for 14 yards.
It was back to the run before a third down around midfield. Flacco took two quick steps back and delivered in rhythm to wide receiver Jacoby Jones for 12 yards and a first down.
Flacco then used play-action again to find fullback Kyle Juszczyk wide open for a 17-yard gain down the seam. After not recording a single regular-season reception during his rookie season, Juszczyk should have a much larger role under Kubiak.
That catch set up a 7-yard carry by running back Bernard Pierce, then a 9-yard slant to new wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., punctuated by his trademark ball spin.
"I had a lot of nerves – new surroundings, new jersey and new offense," Smith said. "But at the end of the day, it's football, so I enjoyed it. It was good to be out there, catch a pass, and overall, just have a great day – get in and get out."
Rice ran behind his powerful left side of the line for another 6 yards before Pierce, who will be starting for Rice the first two weeks, plunged into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.
The Ravens' first-team defense didn't shine as brightly.
The 49ers ground game rumbled down the field on the game's opening drive. Rookie second-round running back Carlos Hyde ran three times for 43 yards. Baltimore outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was flagged for roughing the passer and cornerback Chykie Brown was called for pass interference on the same play.
The defense stood tall inside the 10-yard line – just like in Super Bowl XLVII but with lower stakes – to limit the 49ers to a field goal. New starting nose tackle Brandon Williams came up with a stop for a loss on third down.
"It was the first drive of the season, and everybody was a little frantic and anxious," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "That's to be expected, so that's why you have preseason games. They are a good team."
The 49ers also pulled their first-team offense after one drive. The Ravens defense dominated the rest of the half.
Cornerback Asa Jackson picked off backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Jackson played the zone coverage well and had his eyes on Gabbert the whole way before elevating to make the play.
Rookie first-round inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was all over the field. He sniffed out screens, made tackles in pursuit to the sideline, sniffed out screens and even got a sack in his first NFL game. Mosley finished with a team-leading five tackles.
"I felt like I was very productive," Mosley said. "I was very excited to play; I know I'm in a blessed situation and I'm not taking this for granted."
The Ravens continued to pull away from the 49ers in the second half.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor was effective with his legs and arm – outside of one interception. He guided the offense to three field-goal drives, including a 55-yarder by kicker Justin Tucker. Taylor's night ended with a 7-yard pass to undrafted rookie wide receiver Jeremy Butler in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens ran the ball well all night, no matter what running back was toting the ball. It's just one game, but a good sign after the Ravens were last in the league in average yards per carry last season.
Baltimore piled up 237 total yards on the ground. Rice averaged 5.7 yards per carry, Pierce averaged 3.7 and rookie fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro rumbled for 71 yards on 13 carries, an average of 5.5 per carry.
The negative in the ground game was two fumbles, one by Pierce (which he recovered) and another by Justin Forsett lost to the 49ers. Harbaugh punctuated the need for ball security after the game.
Harbaugh additionally made sure to temper excitement. The Ravens were successful, but it's just one game, one preseason game.
"It was a good start for the offense," he said. "But, you know what, don't read too much into it. We've got lots of work to do, and I'm really excited for the next three days."