No Ray Rice. No Bernard Pierce.
Enter rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro.
The Ravens' 2014 fourth-round pick ran 18 times for 91 yards and a touchdown in his first regular-season offensive action, helping power Baltimore to a 23-21 victory in Cleveland and giving hope that Baltimore can overcome its losses at the position.
Taliaferro picked up a lot of yardage after first contact. The big bruiser pushed the pile and kept his pad level low to power through tackles.
The Ravens have struggled to run the ball in the red zone, and they gave Taliaferro a crack at it in the third quarter. After quarterback Joe Flacco came up short on a quarterback sneak, Taliaferro pounded his way into the end zone behind right guard Marshal Yanda.
"I think the results speak for themselves with Lorenzo," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It was downhill running, he was physical, he was hard to tackle. That's an element that is* *a big plus for an offense."
Taliaferro had been limited to special teams work in the Ravens' first two games, but he was a big part of the game from the start on Sunday with Pierce out.
Taliaferro got the Ravens' second carry of the game and rumbled up the middle for 9 yards. He took the next one for 7 yards. The 6-foot, 226-pound Coastal Carolina product was highly featured on the Ravens' third drive, in which he ran seven times for 62 yards.
He started it with a 31-yard gain up the gut when the Ravens caught the Browns defending line out of position. A huge hole opened for Taliaferro, who ended up being taken down by the last remaining defender near midfield.
Taliaferro's running set the Ravens up for their first touchdown of the game, a 9-yard* *pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The Browns bit on play-action due to the running success, leaving Juszczyk wide open.
"Coach said from the start that we had to come out and get on them early. We just had to start fast," Taliaferro said.
"We wanted to establish the run," added fellow running back Justin Forsett, who had 11 carries for 63 yards. "You have to when you play on the road and you're playing a tough divisional game. We wanted to establish the run and take control of the clock."
Taliaferro's success was previewed in the preseason. He led all NFL running backs in yardage in the preseason, rushing 65 times for 243 yards and one touchdown.
Because of that experience, he said he wasn't too nervous getting a bigger role in a key regular-season game.
"I think I left that behind against the 49ers in the preseason," Taliaferro said of his jitters. "It wasn't too much thinking. Coach gave me a lot of reps this week and I just did everything to make sure it was working."
The rookie mostly gave credit to his offensive line. Facing a stiff Browns front seven, the Ravens churned out 160 yards on the ground.
"When the offensive line is moving people off the ball, the holes are just gaping and you can make your cuts a lot easier," Taliaferro said. "It can always go better. You never want to get too comfortable. You just want to keep progressing."
It's unknown how much of an offensive role Taliaferro will have going forward once Pierce returns. Harbaugh said the Ravens should have a "good chance" of getting Pierce back next week.
"I hope so," Harbaugh said. "It's a muscle injury. We thought we'd get him to the game, but it didn't work out."