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Gary Kubiak Brings New System, Same Philosophy

Posted Jan 28, 2014

Gary Kubiak’s stretch-zone run scheme and play-action passing suit the Ravens offensive personnel.


When the Ravens moved from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell, Caldwell was adamant that not much was going to change. The hiring of Gary Kubiak on Monday had a different tone.

Change is on the way.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked if it feels like a fresh start for the offense.

“Sure. How can you say it doesn’t?” he said.

The Ravens have studied and implemented aspects of Denver and Houston’s stretch-zone run scheme the past couple of years. Kubiak will bring the entire system, changing what quarterback Joe Flacco and others do in the process.

What works well is that Kubiak’s system largely fits the personnel the Ravens have in place, and the philosophy Harbaugh has long held for what a Baltimore offense should be.

“[Kubiak’s system] looks like, in a lot of ways, like we want to look,” Harbaugh said of Kubiak’s offense on Monday.

On a grand scale, Kubiak preaches balance, and the run setting up the pass. It’s something the Ravens and Harbaugh have found works best for them. The Ravens had to get away from that last year, relying heavily on the passing game while the run game struggled.

“We’ve got to be able to run the football to make the rest of it go,” Kubiak said. “Watching John’s group throughout the course of the years, what they’ve done offensively and how they want to move forward, I think it’s a very good fit. It’s up to us as coaches to put it all together.”

First, Kubiak’s stretch-zone run scheme is largely what the Ravens have looked to do in years past, but on a grander scale.

“We were just running partial run scheme,” said Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, who played for Kubiak for five years in Houston. “Now we’re going to have the full zone scheme.”

The Ravens have drafted and signed linemen that fit that style. It moves linemen laterally, requiring them to be flexible and nimble enough to move.

The Ravens have offensive linemen that are known more for their movement than sheer size with guard Marshal Yanda, center Gino Gradkowski and tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher. Monroe and Oher are unrestricted free agents, but Baltimore will likely re-sign one or look for replacements in similar molds.

Kubiak looks for fast, powerful one-cut running backs that find a seam and get downhill fast. He’s got that in Ray Rice and especially Bernard Pierce. It’s the ability to plant the foot in the ground and burst through a hole in a moving offensive line.

“If they’ll get downhill, we’ll do fine.” Kubiak said. “[They’ve had] some great running backs here that have been very successful. We told John we think they fit what we do very well. It’s our job now to go teach our system and get them comfortable with it.”

When it comes to the passing game, Flacco will be using more play-action passing with bootlegs and roll outs that are designed to give him more time to set his feet and throw. With Flacco’s big arm, that should help him launch more deep passes with better success.

Play-action passing suits Flacco well, as he showed last year, because he’s athletic and mobile enough to get outside the pocket and either run or throw. Flacco had a 90.7 quarterback rating when using play-action passing last year, compared to 70.3 with no play action.

“It’s our job to find the things that Joe is comfortable with and to make him as successful as we possibly can. And we’ll do that,” Kubiak said.

Kubiak’s system works well for tight ends, because it often utilizes them as pass catchers. Dennis Pitta is currently an unrestricted free agent, but if he’s re-signed, he is very similar to Kubiak’s two-time Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels. Both can split out wide to create mismatches.

As far as the wide receivers, Kubiak’s offense requires them to make plays deep and often run crossing patterns to create different passing levels in the play-action game. Torrey Smith has proven effective in both roles. He can get deep, and he can turn short passes into long gains with his legs.

With all that said, a major point that Harbaugh and Kubiak agree on is that the new Ravens offense needs to be physical. That’s what Harbaugh’s teams have hung their hat on over the years, and they got away from it a bit last year when they had to abandon the run game and spread out the offense.

So Kubiak will be blending his offensive schemes with the vision he and Harbaugh shared over the past few days before his hiring. Even though Kubiak is bringing some of his offensive staff from Houston, it will ultimately have a Baltimore flavor.

“It’s not going to be the Texans’ offense or the Broncos’ offense or anybody [else’s] offense. It’s going to be the Ravens’,” Harbaugh said.

“It’s going to be what we build with our players and our coaches. It’s going to look like Baltimore wants it to look. It’s going to be rugged, it’s going to be rough, it’s going to be tough, physical, downhill, precise football – passing game and running game. And that’s what we are looking to become. I think there’s a really good fit here philosophically. We see football from the same perspective, and these guys see football from the perspective of Baltimore’s fans.”

Kubiak nodded his head in agreement. The Texans, like the Ravens, have long been a scrappy team. And Kubiak will bring that to Baltimore.

“Through my conversations with John, the thing that stood out to me from the very beginning is that John talks about being physical – that’s what we want to do,” Kubiak said. “Offensively, that’s where everything starts for us.”

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