The latest edition of the Harbaugh Bowl, a preseason opener between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, may not have carried the same importance as their last meeting, but there was plenty of interest and intrigue as the two sides locked horns on Thursday night.
Results don′t mean a whole lot in preseason, but the 23-3 triumph for the Ravens will be a nice fillip for Head Coach John Harbaugh, as his team look to rebound from a very disappointing 2013 campaign.
Here′s what we took away from the game.
Second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk out of Harvard looks set to be an important piece of the Ravens′ offense this season. Having worked on his blocking in his rookie season, Juszczyk was successful in leading the way for his running backs against San Francisco, as well as demonstrating his good hands on three receptions. Coaches and players alike have been raving about Juszczyk′s ability as a receiver, and his presence on the field this season could be akin to having a second or third tight end in Joe Flacco′s armory.
Kamar Aiken kept up momentum in his campaign for a roster spot. The wide receiver made 46 yards on four receptions, but it was his ability to gain consistent separation that was most impressive.
Rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro showed his strength, powering through the middle of the 49ers defense on a number of occasions. He still sits behind Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett on the depth chart, but the fourth-round pick certainly impressed in his first appearance.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor looks set to keep his spot as Flacco′s deputy, with rookie Keith Wenning′s responsibilities limited to handing off to a running back on two plays and then taking a knee. Taylor did look comfortable in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak′s scheme though, profiting from a number of bootleg and play action calls.
Cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Asa Jackson both had interceptions as they vie for the nickelback role in Baltimore′s defense, whilst undrafted free agent Tramain Jacobs also impressed in the secondary. Jacobs shadowed David Reed down the field on a go route and made a good play to break up the pass, as well as being solid in coverage throughout his time on the field. The Ravens have a good record of UFAs making the final 53-man roster, and this year it could well be Jacobs.
The 49ers′ offense struggled for any kind of consistency once Colin Kaepernick left the field, with Blaine Gabbert in particular struggling. Josh Johnson did look more fluent in his snaps, but they were limited by the Ravens′ offense domination of possession.
Quinton Dial, a second-year defensive lineman out of Alabama, was arguably the most impressive player on the field across both teams. With so many linemen injured, Dial′s emergence will be music to the ears of Jim Harbaugh. In addition to two forced fumbles, Dial was able to shed blockers with ease for much of the game, and if it were not for his ability to get the Ravens′ running backs, the final result could′ve been even more one-sided.
Staying on the defensive line, Tank Carradine and Lawrence Okoye were two more players to impress on a tough night for the 49ers. Carradine, a second-round pick in 2013, looks ready to make an impact for San Francisco, whilst Okoye′s development continues at pace. Okoye, a British Olympian, manhandled offensive linemen on a couple of plays, both of which ended with Carradine reaping the benfits, recording a sack and a tackle for loss respectively. There′s no denying Okoye is still a work-in-progress, but he now looks like a real football player, rather than just a scary athlete in pads and a helmet.
Another positive note for San Francisco was the play of rookies Chris Borland and Jimmie Ward. Rookies often spend too much time thinking and not enough time playing instinctively as they adjust to the NFL, but that certainly was not the case for Borland or Ward.
The 49ers will now remain in Baltimore for a further four days and train with the Ravens, before jetting home on Monday. With John Harbaugh′s men holding bragging rights from Super Bowl XLVII and Thursday night′s game, expect some fireworks during the scrimmages over the next few days.