Give credit where credit is due.
John Harbaugh has taken an impressive first step to reconstructing his moribund offense in Baltimore. In hiring former Houston head coach Gary Kubiak to run the show, he has installed one of the best play-designers in the NFL. Kubiak understands how to attack every layer of a defense in the running game and the passing game.
Kubiak’s roots are from the West Coast offense. However, he does not run a pure West Coast style the way of Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Steve Young. His Denver and Houston offenses incorporated the vertical passing game. And not every pass play is based purely on timing and throwing to a spot. Kubiak takes his shots, and he’ll take advantage of Joe Flacco’s big arm. Still, the change in philosophy should force Flacco to anticipate his throws more often, and that will improve his timing with his receivers.
Along with implementing a multidimensional West Coast approach, Kubiak will work with offensive line coach Juan Castillo to resurrect the zone-blocking scheme. Getting the zone-blocking scheme up to par will play a crucial part in not only improving the running game, but also adding much-needed bite to the play-action passing attack.
What are some of the other features of Kubiak’s offense?
Here are five tendencies to watch out for:
1. Hard Run-action. When it comes to well-executed run-action, the entire offense sells the run fake. The line will slide to the play side and the back will continue the action of stepping forward. Houston was one of the best at not only presenting an authentic play-fake, but also carrying out the rehearsal of a running play to fool defenses.
2. Keeping the QB on the Move. Once the run-action and play-fake is in full effect, next comes the QB’s movement to the open (back) side. Kubiak runs an assortment of waggles and bootlegs to get his QBs throwing on the run. He will also move the pocket — something we see Sean Payton do quite often in New Orleans with Drew Brees. Look for Flacco to get more chances to make plays outside of the pocket.
3. Multiplicity. The Texans were one of the toughest offenses for defensive coordinators to prepare for because they showed a variance of formations. They would run with two tight ends, two backs, no backs, and anything in-between.
4. Pre-snap Movement. In addition to using multiple formations from series to series, Kubiak’s offenses also feature “move” players. Receivers will move from the X or the Z position to the slot to create mismatches, or tight ends will flex to the outside. Overall, you’ll also see plenty of movement from the H-back and tight ends to keep defenses guessing. To that end, look for fullback Kyle Juszcyk to get a boost in his role as a flex player who can line up all over the field, similar to former Houston Texan James Casey.
5. Return of the Crossing Route. The tight ends will also play a significant role as over-the-middle targets in Kubiak’s offense. Whether it was Shannon Sharpe, Owen Daniels, or Joel Dreessen, Kubiak used his tight ends heavily on crossers and created matchup nightmares against linebackers. Moreover, the receivers also play a key role in clearing the middle and attracting coverage to open up space for deeper routes to develop.