Fixing the running game topped the Ravens' priority list coming into this season.
It's safe to say the offense passed its first test.
The Ravens wrapped up the preseason with a dominant rushing performance Thursday in New Orleans, racking up 214 yards on the ground in the 22-13 victory. The Ravens rode the legs of rookie running backs Lorenzo Taliaferro and Fitzgerald Toussaint, who consistently moved the ball behind a strong showing by the offensive line.
"Both of those guys ran the ball downhill," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought our offensive line was absolutely dominant for tonight's game. They got after it."
The finale against the Saints continued the preseason trend of the Ravens pounding the ball on the ground. Baltimore finished the preseason as the NFL's best rushing offense, averaging 171 yards a game. The Ravens averaged 15.2 more yards per game than the second-ranked Eagles.
Success on the ground has been across the board for Baltimore, regardless of who's carrying the football. Top backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have been impressive in their limited work, and the rookie rushers have also shown plenty of promise.
Taliaferro led the NFL with 243 rushing yards during the preseason.
"It means a lot," Taliaferro said about being the league's top rusher. "But I don't try to focus on the yards. I try to be a complete back. Once I just focus on the rushing,that slows down the protections and catching the ball. I just focus on my job overall."
The rejuvenated running game has come after a series of moves the Ravens made the last few months to repair a unit that ranked 29th in the league last year. The first step was hiring Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, whose system is predicated on running the ball. Kubiak has a long track record of rushing success, as his offenses have historically been among the league's best.
In addition to bringing in Kubiak, the Ravens have also gone through a significant overhaul up front. The team traded for veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, moved right tackle Rick Wagner into the starting lineup after the departure of Michael Oher, and also got Kelechi Osemele back after last year's back injury.
The personnel on the offensive line is a good fit for the Ravens' new scheme, and Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo is experienced teaching in that kind of system. The ground game was in sync throughout the preseason, demonstrating that the group has quickly bought into Kubiak's system.
The next step is to carry the preseason success into games that really count in the win-loss columns, starting with the Week 1 matchup against Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium.