From the moment Gary Kubiak arrived in Baltimore last year, there was no doubt about how the Ravens offense would look in 2014. All you had to do was watch film of Kubiak's Houston offenses, or the John Elway-led Denver offenses that won Super Bowls with Kubiak calling the plays.
Few NFL coaches have a more identifiable blueprint or clear-cut philosophy. Going back two decades, a Kubiak offense starts by establishing a solid running game based on zone-blocking principles, then uses that to set up a play-action-based passing game featuring bootlegs, waggles and other high-percentage throws.
Sure enough, with a pair of former Houston assistants (Quarterbacks Coach Rick Dennison and Tight Ends Coach Brian Parini) helping him, Kubiak installed his familiar system in Baltimore and saw it realized on the field in 2014. The Ravens offense set franchise records for points and yards.
Now that Kubiak has gone back to Denver as the head coach, with Dennison and Parini in tow, there's no doubt about what the Broncos offense will look like in 2015, with or without Peyton Manning under center. Just roll the tape from Baltimore.
But what about the Ravens offense going forward? Marc Trestman, hired to replace Kubiak as the team's offensive coordinator, isn't so singularly associated with a specific way of doing things.
Oh, he has similarly impressive credentials – decades of experience, a long track record of success, the respect of people in the industry. And like Kubiak, his philosophical roots are identifiable and trace to the West Coast offense that Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers employed in the 1980s and 1990s.
In fact, somewhat incredibly, Trestman has replaced Kubiak as a play-caller before, in San Francisco in the mid-90s.
But Trestman, 59, has taken a different career path than Kubiak, moved around a lot more. He has been an offensive coordinator and/or play-caller for four NFL teams (the Ravens will make it five) and one college team (North Carolina State). He's been a head coach in the Canadian Football League, winning a pair of titles, and was the Chicago Bears head coach for the past two years.
Along the way, he has developed an estimable reputation for getting the most out of his quarterbacks, which surely helped convince Joe Flacco to give the hiring a thumbs-up. But he has tweaked his offenses here and there, seemingly depending on personnel, the whims of the head coach, his own development, etc. Bottom line, his offenses haven't always looked exactly the same.
What does that mean for the Ravens in 2015 and beyond? I guess we'll find out.
Personnel-wise, running back Justin Forsett and tight end Owen Daniels both came to Baltimore seemingly because of Kubiak, and they ended up contributing a lot more than expected. They're both free agents, and players don't always make choices based on such matters, but we'll see whether they return now that Kubiak is gone.
As for the offense's overall look, Trestman has worked as an NFL play-caller for 10 years and produced five top-10 passing attacks, according to The Baltimore Sun. So there's one clue about how things will look – look out below! But he's only produced one top-10 ground game in those 10 years, according to The Sun, and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh demands a strong rushing attack, so we'll see how that develops.
Harbaugh pledged continuity on Trestman's introductory conference call with reporters earlier this week, saying the plan was for Trestman to take Kubiak's offense and "build on it." Trestman delivered the same message. I have no doubt about their "stay the course" general mindset.
But there's going to be change, evolution, new wrinkles. You can bank on it. The Ravens were excited about having Kubiak run the offense for another year, but now that that's not happening, they didn't hire Trestman to be a Kubiak clone. They hired him (and reportedly gave him a three-year deal) because he is a well-known innovator, with his own, interesting ideas.
Is the offense still promising? Yes. Something to get excited about? For sure. But no one should expect it to be exactly the same.
Some fans may not want to hear that, but hey, near the end of Kubiak's time in Houston, there were complaints that his system and play-calling had become predictable. As someone once said, a little mystery in life can be a good thing.