Much has been made about the hiring of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and the offensive system he’ll bring to Baltimore.
The first speculation is that his zone-blocking prowess and experience will be one of the staples of Baltimore’s offense, something that woefully failed last season.
Another dynamic of Kubiak’s offense that fans anticipate to see is the increased role of the tight ends in the game plan.
With the signing of Owen Daniels, another former player from Kubiak’s offense in Houston as well as the Kubiak-influenced selection of tight end Crockett Gillmore in the third round of the draft, it appears the Ravens are gearing up for a tight end-heavy system next season.
But is Kubiak’s system any more favorable to the tight end than anywhere else?
Just because the Houston Texans have had a few quality tight ends over the year, particularly Daniels, may not necessarily mean that Kubiak’s system is any more friendly to the position than that of other teams.
What exactly should fans expect regarding Kubiak and his tight ends in Baltimore?
Without digging into any statistics, any fan who watched Kubiak’s Houston offenses noticed a heavy use of the tight end, but was his offense one of the best utilizations of tight ends in the NFL?
Let’s find out.
In a comparative analysis, ideally several years of data could be used to gather information, however with changing offensive coordinators and personnel every year in the NFL, more seasons wouldn’t necessarily mean better answers.
So to keep things simple, let’s employ a “what have you done for me lately?” approach and look at the usage and success of tight ends across the NFL last season.
The first item to examine to gain a knowledgeable idea of how often tight ends were the focal point of their respective offenses is to look at their targets.
Last season, Houston (as expected) was right near the top in this category.
We’ll just attribute the Texans not being the number one team to the “Jimmy Graham Effect.”
(You’ll notice as you follow along that Graham single-handedly skews pretty much every ounce of data).
For the season, Houston’s offense targeted the tight end position 18 more times than Baltimore’s. That’s more than one attempt per game, which may not seem like much, but that’s still likely something that would be noticeable over the course of a season if Kubiak’s Baltimore offense is as tight end-heavy as it was in Houston in 2013.
Targets are a good baseline, but what’s the comparison of the targets-to-attempts for each team, giving a better idea of how often tight ends were truly targeted in each offense?
Take a look.
Houston is not as high on the list anymore, but was still the sixth-highest in the NFL last season, with almost two percent more of the offense’ s pass attempts directed toward tight ends than Baltimore’s.
So far the theory of Kubiak’s offense favoring the use of tight ends is close to being proved, but not just yet.
While percentage of targets may be the single most telling stat to know how often each offense’s tight ends are used in the passing game, examining the effectiveness of tight ends in each system relative to targets helps.
A look at the total yards accumulated in the passing game by tight ends in each offense last season puts Houston again near the top, in the same position as the percentage of attempts, sixth.
Like targets, the total number isn’t necessarily as valuable as the percentage relative to each offense. A look at how many yards in the passing game were picked up by tight ends would be a better examination of the effectiveness.
Yet again, Houston comes in sixth.
To compare Houston and Baltimore’s value from the tight end in the passing game last season, Houston’s pass offense had almost exactly five percent more of the total passing yardage come from tight ends than Baltimore’s.
To offer an even clearer picture of the usage of tight ends in each NFL offense last season, it wouldn’t be fair to look just at the passing game.
Why not compare the yards gained by tight ends to the entire offense’s yardage?
Yet again, Houston is hovering near the top, almost in the same spot as every statistic.
And yet again, our friend Jimmy Graham puts New Orleans at the top of another category, making the Saints the #1 team in all but one ranking (#2 behind San Francisco in percent of pass offense).
If you’re keeping score at home, Houston trumps Baltimore in every category.
In fact, the Texans had at least a three-team cushion over the Ravens in every major tight end statistic.
While the statistics above may only be honing in on the 2013 season, they proved what we already knew: Kubiak’s Houston offense favored the tight end position.
In comparison to Baltimore, every facet of tight end usage in the passing game favored Houston, which is a testament to both Kubiak’s system and what’s in store for 2014.
It won’t be an accident if Baltimore’s pass attack is geared more toward the tight end position next season.
Statistics from ESPN, NFL.com and Pro Football Focus were used for the gathering of information for this article.