It was a night of reunions, debuts, and surprises at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night as the Ravens were able to run all over the 49ers, 23-3.
John Harbaugh was able to advance his NFL record against his brother in NFL play to 3-0 as his “mighty men” impressed taking the big stage for the first time in 2014.
Here’s a look at what we learned in all three phases of the game last night:
Smooth sailing for Kubiak’s debut
There’s no reason to believe anyone will take a step back on the Ravens offense this year.
After watching what the first-teamers were able to do within Gary Kubiak’s system, it became clear that the 2014 offensive unit might be even better than expected.
While it’s likely that Kubiak kept many of his cards close to his vest, he displayed several wrinkles in the game plan, including some late-developing TE screens that went for first downs.
Joe Flacco looked comfortable, everyone got touches, and most importantly, the running backs were churning away yardage every time they touched the ball.
For Kubiak, it’s safe to say things couldn’t have gone better.
Rookies have mixed debuts
The Ravens are extremely high on the philosophy of “building from the draft,” making the preseason an interesting look into the potential future of the Ravens.
The two offensive rookies to watch on Thursday were Lorenzo Taliaferro and Crockett Gilmore, both mid-round picks that have a virtual locks to make the team.
Taliaferro busy and rugged, working his way through the middle of the San Francisco defense. He saw more time that Justin Forsett, but Forsett did get in the game a bit earlier than the Coastal Carolina alum did.
Gilmore struggled a bit, looking lost at times in his NFL debut. He missed a few notable blocks, but nothing earth-shattering occurred during his short time on the field.
Running back battle continues hot
Behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, the Ravens have a loaded depth chart that includes Forsett and Taliaferro.
Forsett, despite coughing the ball up once, shined bright on multiple occasions. He finished the night with 42 total yards (29 rushing, 13 through the air), while his rookie competitor also showed up in a big way, racking up 71 yards on some tough carries.
Under-the-radar back Fitz Toussaint also had a few nice carries as well, averaging five yards a rush and flashing some toughness.
Juszczyk’s role to be expanded greatly
If last night solidified one thing, it’s that Kyle Juszczyk won’t be spending the bulk of his season on the sidelines this year – he’ll be running with the offense in games that count.
We saw Juszczyk in several roles in the game, most notably as a pass-catcher. Gary Kubiak had plays ready for the second-year FB/TE hybrid, including a perfectly-executed seam route in the first quarter.
The coaching staff appears confident regarding the Harvard alum – meaning you might be hearing a lot of “Juuuuuuuuuuuice” from the crowd this season.
Front-7 better than ever
It’s hard to make bold predictions after one pre-season game – but if we learned anything last night, it’s that the Ravens’ defensive front-7 might be the best unit in franchise history.
Take away the big names (Dumervil, Suggs, Ngata, D. Smith), and you still have an elite unit of young bodies including Brandon Williams, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson, Timmy Jernigan, and Kapron Lewis-Moore – all of whom made plays last night.
Ozzie Newsome’s strategy is clear: beef up the front for the future. If last night’s third-down goal-line stop against the 49ers’ first-teamers was any indication of what we may see this year, Dean Pees’ bunch could bring the decibel level up during home games this year.
Jackson getting his chance, standing tall
Finally coming into a season ready to roll, Asa Jackson is being given every chance to make a lasting impression.
Chykie Brown has brought nothing but poor play early in the camp/pre-season process, giving Jackson an opening to battle for the third spot on the depth chart.
The Cal Poly alum wasn’t given too many opportunities in coverage last night, but he cashed in when he did, drawing a pass interference call and picking off an ill-advised pass by Blaine Gabbert.
Jackson also got the nod as the kick returner for most of the night. While he didn’t stand out, it speaks volumes as to the trust the coaching staff is beginning to build.
Safeties get their chance, don’t disappoint
The 49ers completed just 13 passes on the night, largely due in part to some unexpected strong secondary play.
Jeromy Miles was flying around the field last night, making tackles up front and on special teams.
Matt Elam, who came into the game a bit of a question mark, laid the wood on a few 49ers – showing that his on-field impact can’t be measured without the pads.
Darian Stewart looked sharp, while the other three guys in contention will need to make their impact in the final three games.