There has been only one real topic this week—the Super Bowl. Here is a brief analysis of Super Bowl XLVII, plus my thoughts on a few other topics that caught my attention this week (mainly from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s State of the NFL Address).
There was a sense of “pressure” and “guilt” of not getting this post out sooner. However, I am sort of glad it has taken me a bit to write about the Ravens hiring Gary Kubiak as their new offensive coordinator because my feelings have slightly changed since the news broke on Monday morning.
To be totally upfront, I think this is, for the most part, a tremendous hire for the Ravens. Kubiak brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, and his résumé speaks for itself. I think his offense is a good fit for Joe Flacco (current Air Coryell system and the West Coast principles of Kubiak’s system are very similar) and I think that Kubiak’s philosophies in the run game mesh to what the Ravens were trying to accomplish the last couple of years.
Kubiak, and his fellow Houston coaches—Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani—bring a clear plan and a seamless philosophy to the offense. This is will be different than what the Ravens endured last year with the communication, or lack thereof, between Jim Caldwell and Jim Hostler and the players. Caldwell and Hostler were basically running Cam Cameron’s offense, with some wrinkles here and there. It wasn’t necessarily their offense. They had no true ownership of the system, from a big picture perspective.
Kubiak and his staff bring that big picture perspective to the offense. The familiarity with one another limits the potential of miscommunication and offers more “oneness” into the approach of the offense.
Kubiak brings an offense that is anything but vanilla—he uses multiple formations, pre-snap shifts, varied personnel, and he emphasizes both the run and the pass. Rarely has a Kubiak-led offense had a rushing attack that has not been in the top ten in rushing yards. While emphasizing the run, a Kubiak-led offense then bases the passing game off of the run game, using a heavy dose of play-action. We may actually see a variety of screen plays, picks/rubs, and more complex route combinations that help beat coverages. Finally.
Another thing that is so appealing about Kubiak leading the Ravens’ offense is that he has had success with players that, at first glance, have less talent than Flacco and running back Ray Rice. Kubiak has succeeded with running backs Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns, Steve Slaton, and Ron Dayne. Were Terrell Davis and Arian Foster byproducts of Kubiak’s system, or were they both highly talented players that were overlooked by 31 other teams executives? Rice, and Bernard Pierce, could play the role well in this offense.
Quarterbacks Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, and Matt Schaub have all had great success under Kubiak’s tutelage. Plummer and Schaub each have had 4,000 yard seasons, and Griese almost hit that mark in two separate injury-shortened seasons with per game averages of 247 and 268 yards. You have to believe that Kubiak, and his offensive philosophy, will be a boon for Flacco and help get him back on track.
Kubiak uses the whole roster. He uses all of the running backs, gets the fullbacks and tight ends involved, and tries to spread the ball around to all of his wide receivers. This will be a stark change from what the Ravens have done up to this point. Harbuagh, Cameron, and Caldwell were reluctant in putting younger players in positions to succeed. Kyle Juszczyk, Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette, and in his younger days Tandon Doss were rarely given opportunities to succeed. They were often labeled “not ready” or they “needed to practice better.” I think Kubiak will find ways to get players like this involved which will breed their confidence. He will use the full roster and carve out roles for each.
Will it all work? There are supporters and there are others that have their doubts. Regardless, the Ravens need to find the talent by upgrading the offensive line, the receiving corps, and the tight ends—all areas that Kubiak cannot fix by just arriving and installing his system.
With the glowing positives that come from this move come legitimate questions that need to be addressed.
Can the partnership of Harbaugh and Kubiak work? Much was discussed about how Kubiak landed on the Ravens’ staff. Was Kubiak forced on Harbaugh, or was it a situation that organically evolved as other coaching searches ended and Kubiak became a realistic option? I tend to believe it was somewhere in the middle of those views. Respected, competent, and successful organizations rarely dictate and mandate orders. Owner Steve Bisciotti prides himself with having a collaborative organization. No matter how things came to fruition, the fact remains that Harbaugh and Kubiak need to find a way to make this thing work.
But the current arrangement could be a roadblock for said partnership. The coaches on the offensive side have effectively become Houston East. Gone are Wilbert Montgomery, Wade Harman, Jim Hostler, and Andy Moeller. The lone survivor is Juan Castillo. The entire staff has been overhauled. Where is the continuity? Though I never wanted Hostler as the offensive coordinator, he did bring continuity and an understanding of the roster. Now, there is no continuity as the team is practically starting from scratch, and Kubiak’s staff will need time to get to know the strengths, weaknesses, and skill sets of the players on the roster.
If (more like when) Kubiak gets another opportunity to be a head coach, he will presumably take his coaches with him. Where will that leave the Ravens? Back to square one. (Sidebar: If Kubiak leaves in two years, just when Flacco will need to have his contract re-worked, could we have a Tony D’Amato and Willie Beamen scenario? That would be interesting.)
In addition, it is becoming clearer that Kubiak will have full control of the offense—coaches, system, scheme, and possibly a louder say in personnel. Will this arrangement be prudent? Rarely does a head coach handing off one side of the ball to another coach have great success. The head coach needs to flow between all three phases of the team. Up to this point, Harbaugh has done this effectively (even when Rex Ryan was on the staff).
Will there be a disconnect between the head coach and the offensive coaches? Could this lead to a split among the players? These are reasonable questions to raise, and the coaches need to bring that collaborative oneness into the common goal of winning games.
Keeping the egos in check of all involved is another priority for this new arrangement. The offensive coordinator has more years of head coaching experience than the actual head coach. That could be a concern; however, I believe that the Kubiak and Harbaugh will manage this situation. I think all parties are cognizant of the pratfall of pride.
Contrary to the small, but very vocal, pocket of fans that believes Harbaugh is an insecure, buddy-promoting, ego-maniac, control freak, Harbaugh will make this work. He never would have agreed to this arrangement if he wasn’t comfortable with it. And no, Biscotti didn’t “force” this on him. Moreover, Kubiak is a class act and he will help make this a seamless transition. Read this article and you will see why I believe this.
In the big picture, the potential is there for the Ravens to construct and install an offense that fits the 2014 version of Joe Flacco, which is a much different version than the one Harbaugh had when he installed his original offense. The hope is that Harbaugh can learn from Kubiak, and that together they can help build and organize a fluid offense. This will take a collaborative effort, creativity, time and patience, and resilience to work through the undoubted growing pains that will come with change. Hopefully, the end result will be the creation of a top to bottom offensive philosophy that will endure even if Kubiak leaves for another head coaching opportunity.
A new era for the Ravens has arrived.
An avid sports fan, and a passionate Ravens fan. However, I don't always wear the purple-shaded glasses.