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Ravens Run Game Regains Missing Ingredient

It's just one preseason game. The first-team offense only played a series.  The 49ers rested some of their key defenders.

But even with those disclaimers, the Ravens running game impressed and showed loads of potential in its first game action of the year. The Ravens pounded the ball on the ground throughout the 23-3 victory, churning out 237 total rushing yards on 48 carries.

It was the kind of performance the Ravens lacked and sorely needed last season, and it was a sign that that the running game could be in store for a rebound under new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak.

"Honestly I felt that there was something there that we missed last year," running back Bernard Pierce said. "Maybe it was a little more comradery, a little more trust – but whatever it was, the holes were definitely opening up and we just as backs had to trust the system and hit it."

The success on the ground was across the board for the Ravens backfield.

Ray Rice averaged 5.7 yards per carry on his three attempts. Justin Forsett had 29 yards on seven carries. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro barreled over defenders and picked up 71 yards on 13 carries.

The holes were there on the ground, and the backs took advantage.

"We went out there the first drive and we executed," Rice said. "But when [the starters] came out, the same level of execution came in. That was good to see that there was no drop off in anybody."

The ground-and-pound approach was missing from last year's offense, when the Ravens uncharacteristically ranked 29th in the NFL by averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Rice had just one game where he rushed for over 100 yards and the Ravens never ran for more than 200.

Injuries were part of the problem last season, but now the Ravens are healthy up front and in the backfield. Right guard Marshal Yanda is fully recovered from shoulder surgery and Kelechi Osemele is back at left guard after back surgery. Rice also looks noticeably different after shedding about 20 pounds during the offseason to get down to his rookie weight of 205 pounds.

The seven-year veteran looked like his old self – he's no longer hindered by last year's lingering hip injury – and he appeared to have re-gained the burst that made him a three-time Pro Bowler.

"I do feel different. It's safe to say I feel like back to when I was a rookie," Rice said. "It feels good to go out there against another team and obviously have my step back, and just to go out there and execute at a high level."

Improving the running game was a top priority for the Ravens this offseason, and hiring Kubiak was part of the solution. The offensive coordinator has a history of successful running systems during his two decades of experience with the Texans and Broncos, and he's looking to bring that to Baltimore.

Kubiak's offense relies on a stretch zone blocking scheme, and the running backs liked what they saw in the first game action.

"There were creases all over the field," Pierce said. "We just have to sit there and hit the holes on the run."

It was a strong debut, but the hiccup on the night for the offense was a pair of fumbles by the running backs. Pierce fumbled running through the line of scrimmage, but he was able to jump on top of the ball to prevent a turnover. Forsett also coughed up a ball, and the 49ers recovered.

"Bernard fought and got the ball back, but you can't put the ball on the ground," Harbaugh said. "We are not going to be a team that gives the ball away." 

The Ravens now have three days of practice against the 49ers to continue building on Thursday's performance. The players and coaches want to temper expectations and clean up mistakes like ball security issues, but it was a good way to start the year.

"We're running the ball downhill, and it's a start, but it's just one day," Harbaugh said. "We have to build on top of it."

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