Of all the changes the Ravens have instituted since the end of their disappointing 2013 season, the biggest, in my view, is that their offense now has a philosophy.
You know what it stands for, what it will look like, what it wants to do.
That wasn't always the case when Cam Cameron and Jim Caldwell ran the unit in recent years, but now that Gary Kubiak is in charge, there's a clear-cut identity.
In his years as Houston's head coach (2006-2013) and Denver's offensive coordinator (1995-2005), Kubiak developed and polished an identifiable system that cranked out yards, touchdowns and wins. At the risk of oversimplification, he established the running game with a zone-blocking scheme and then used play-action and multiple sets and targets to make the passing game go.
In his first session with Baltimore reporters Tuesday at the Under Armour Performance Center, Kubiak informally called his offense "the way I've done things and the way I do things," and it's important to note his use of the present tense as well as the past tense there, for his philosophy is now how the Ravens roll, too.
He is spending this spring getting his new offense up and running, and while it's way too early to project how things might go in the fall, one thing is clear: With its unambiguous ideology, his system represents a major shift from how the Ravens have proceeded on offense in recent years.
I'm not trying to bash Cameron, a too-easy fan punching bag who won a bunch of games in his four-plus seasons as the Ravens' offensive coordinator, had a major hand in helping Joe Flacco develop into a winning quarterback and laid the foundation of a unit that won a Super Bowl. I'm also not trying to bash Caldwell, whose play-calling and steady hand produced an epic playoff run in 2012.
But in the years when they ran the offense, it seemed to swing back and forth between a smash-mouth running identity and a passing-oriented philosophy, sometimes switching from one week to the next, almost as if subject to some sort of internal tug-of-war. Remember in November 2011 when Ray Rice had five carries in a loss in Seattle and four times as many carries the next week in a win over Cincinnati?
Well, those days are over. We know what the Ravens are going to look like on offense from week to week. Just roll the tape from Kubiak's Houston and Denver years.
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees also met with reporters Tuesday; he is spending this spring on the practice field, watching from the other side of the ball as Kubiak gets a new offense up and running. When I asked how different Kubiak's offense was from what the Ravens ran before, Pees smiled and said, "A lot."
Then he continued, paying Kubiak a compliment. "I tell you what, I love working with Gary. I like Jim. I like Cam. That's not a negative toward them, but I really like working with Gary," Pees said. "His offense is so multiple. I go back a long time going against him and this offense, when he was at Houston and Denver and I was at New England and here. It's got a lot of doggone weapons and he knows how to use them."
Translation: Kubiak is installing the same offense he ran in Houston and Denver, and Pees, a veteran of four decades of coaching, obviously is enjoying watching a colleague so sure of what he wants and where he's going.
For that matter, the whole team seemingly is enjoying it.
"We tried to run a zone (blocking) scheme last year," wide receiver Torrey Smith said Tuesday. "But Kubiak is that guy. It looks a lot better (this year) than last year. He's done it all before. He knows what it's supposed to look like."
Some coaches believe that players win and lose games; that you should build your units and game plans around your personnel, your strengths and weaknesses. Kubiak certainly has great respect for players – he played in the NFL for nine years – but in his football world view, the system is what carries you. Situations and matchups are always going to impact game plans, but nothing is going to influence the Ravens' offense more in 2014 than the fact that Kubiak is in charge, with a clear idea of what he wants.