Ravens Facing The Creator Of Their Offense, Gary Kubiak


Sunday's season-opening game in Denver definitely has a "Frankenstein" feel to it. 

Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak, the man behind the Ravens' most successful offense in 19 years, will now have to deal with the monster that he ushered into Baltimore during his one year as offensive coordinator.

Kubiak brought his West Coast style, zone-stretch system last season. It revived the Ravens' dreadful 2013 running game, quarterback Joe Flacco had his best statistical season and the Ravens posted a franchise-high 25.6 points (eighth in the NFL) and 364.9 yards (12th) per game.

Asked Wednesday if it's ironic that his first game as the Broncos head coach will be against the team he coached last year, Kubiak chuckled.

"It's funny how that works," Kubiak said in his Texas drawl.

Kubiak's departure from Baltimore was an unusual one, although not all that surprising.

When named as a candidate for head coaching jobs with the Bears and Jets, Kubiak ushered a statement on Jan. 11 that he would remain in Baltimore, saying the Ravens are "building something great" that he wanted to be a part of. 

But when good friend and Broncos General Manager John Elway came calling, Kubiak couldn't turn down a dream offer. The Ravens didn't fault him.

Harbaugh quickly jumped on the task of finding his next offensive coordinator, and the Ravens hired Marc Trestman just one day after Kubiak's hiring was officially announced.

Immediately, it was clear that the Ravens would stick with the same offensive principles and foundation that Kubiak installed. Trestman's vast experience and flexibility allowed for a smooth transition, and players have said they didn't even have to change much terminology.

So who has the advantage when the two sides face off against each other this Sunday?

Does the creator, who knows his own offense like the back of his hand and has spent many hours with Flacco in meeting rooms, picking his brain about his likes and dislikes? Or does the Ravens defense have the advantage because it's practiced against Kubiak's scheme for an entire year?

"He's not the defensive coordinator, and I don't know how much he knows my thought process," Flacco said.

"Everybody knows what kind of team we are," running back Justin Forsett added. "We have an identity of being a run-first team, a team that's physical, smash-mouth football. We've got the same zone scheme that he runs, but we're just confident in what we can do. We can't worry about if he knows a little bit of what we do."

That seems to be the overall sentiment that both sides are going into Sunday's game with. Their knowledge of each other is a wash.

"I think those things are overrated in our business," Kubiak said. "There are a lot of coaches that move around in this league and players move around in this league, and there are a lot of people familiar with each other."

"I'm trying to check and see if [Kubiak] picked my brain too much. Let's see if everything is intact here," Harbaugh said, feeling around his skull to the laughter of Baltimore's media. "You never know, but that stuff is probably overrated."

What makes it interesting is that there will be wrinkles. That happens in every season opener since teams don't show their hands during the preseason and will have made changes since last year. The wrinkles make Week 1 especially fun and challenging for coaches to try to predict, particularly when two teams know each other so well.

While Trestman is using the same principles Kubiak brought to Baltimore, he's also put his own twist on it. Trestman has some different wide receiver route concepts, for example.

"You see zone schemes, obviously. That's a big part of what we taught and what we do," Kubiak said. "Other than that, you see a lot of things that Marc has done through his career. Opening day in this business, you're normally getting things you maybe haven't seen for a while, and everybody has to adjust, so I'm sure we'll have to be ready for everything."

In studying the Broncos thus far under Kubiak's reign, Harbaugh said it's very similar to the offense Peyton Manning ran in his earlier days in Indianapolis. Harbaugh said Manning might not be in the shotgun as much and may not change quite as many plays at the line of scrimmage, but certainly altering some.

"It's definitely Gary's offense," Harbaugh said. "You can tell Gary and [Offensive Coordinator] Rick [Dennison] are installing their offense, and Peyton has done a great job. It's not so different."

Harbaugh joked he hasn't kept in touch with Kubiak because he doesn't do that much with anybody. A Week 1 game against each other can certainly have that effect, as well.

When the two sides meet Sunday, there will be hugs and pleasantries exchanged before the game. Kubiak, Dennison, Tight Ends Coach Brian Pariani, tight end Owen Daniels and safety Darian Stewart all went from Baltimore to Denver.

But when the ball is kicked off, the chess match begins. And at the end of the day, both sides feel that the players' execution on the field will be what makes the difference.

"I've got a relationship with all of them," Forsett said. "It will be good to see them, but I want to win. And I'm trying to do everything I can right now to prepare for it, and I know – we as a team – we're doing the same."

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