Kubiak returns to Houston on Sunday with his latest quarterback success story.
In his first season under Kubiak, Joe Flacco is enjoying the best regular season of his seven-year NFL career. He is on pace for personal highs in passing yards, completion rate and touchdowns.
Under Kubiak, the biggest change to the passing attack has been shorter throws and more rollouts. The biggest change in Flacco has been his comfort level with the offense.
"I kind of let him call the game in a lot of ways," Kubiak said. "On Friday, I give him my [play] card, talk to him about what I think we need to be doing, but yet, I let him come to me and say, ‘I like this first, this second, this third.’ So, when you have a player like that, you need to listen. And I tried to do that. Hopefully I’ve done that well, but I think our relationship grows every week. I have a lot of confidence in him, and hopefully he has the same.”
Flacco is an accomplished quarterback, although not the most consistent one in the regular season. He's two years removed from earning Super Bowl MVP and getting a strong vote of confidence from the franchise in the form of a six-year, $120.6 million deal. Still, Flacco has never thrown for 4,000 yards or more than 25 touchdowns in a season. That could change this year.
With two regular-season games remaining, Flacco is on track to throw for 3,976 yards and 26 touchdowns. His completion rate has increased from 59 percent last year to 64.2 percent this year.
"The biggest thing with Gary is the confidence he gives to the unit," Flacco said. "I’m with Rick [Dennison, quarterbacks coach] a lot, but he’s relaying Gary’s message, and then getting out there and taking the game plan that we built all week and applying it on Sunday. I think Gary does a great job of doing that and seeing what they’re giving us out there and making adjustments and making calls on the fly.”
It looked like Flacco was mastering Kubiak's offense by the sixth game of the season, when he threw five touchdown passes in the first half in Tampa Bay. But he hit a rut following that electric performance, throwing as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns over the next four games as the Ravens limped into the bye.
Since returning from that one-week break, Flacco has been among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Flacco has the third-highest passer rating (107.2) in the league over the past four weeks, throwing six touchdowns and one interception.
"I think we really grooved through the bye week of stopping and saying, ‘OK, Joe, here’s what I’m seeing, tell me what you think,'" Kubiak said. "As a coach, you can look at a guy and say, ‘Boy, he can do everything. He can do this.’ But if you’re not doing what he’s comfortable with, you can be putting him in a bad situation."
The key has been communication. Flacco never had that in five seasons with Cam Cameron, and they often butted heads on the philosophy of the offense. Kubiak has tried to be responsive, and it's shown in the results.
"When he starts talking, Joe likes to talk, so he’ll let me know what he thinks," Kubiak said. "Our relationship, it’s been good. I coach him hard, but I have tremendous respect for him. I think he knows that, and I need to listen to him."
When asked about the biggest impact that Kubiak has made on the offense, Flacco points to the change in mindset on the offensive line. He talked about how Kubiak's system allows the linemen to play aggressively and use their assets to the fullest. Interestingly enough, the same could be said about Kubiak's influence on Flacco.
"His physical abilities are as good as I’ve ever been around," Kubiak said. "He works extremely hard at what he does. Joe [Flacco] is a grinder, hasn’t missed a day of practice, hasn’t missed a rep. I’m very impressed with that. I just think it’s very important, too. [He’s] very competitive, yet very much under control [on] game day. I could go on and on, but he’s a big-time quarterback. He’s a championship quarterback.”