ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With one big decision down for the Denver Broncos, one major decision remains.
In the week since Denver's loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Broncos mutually parted ways with coach John Fox and then hired a new coach in Gary Kubiak, according to an Adam Schefter source. That’s a lot of business in a seven-day span.
The Broncos are expected to officially announce the hiring of one of their own Tuesday. Kubiak, a former player and assistant coach for the franchise, will almost certainly tell the gathered media the job is one he’s been waiting for his entire football life.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway will almost certainly explain why Kubiak is the right man for the job, why Kubiak has the “championship” pedigree the Broncos wanted. He is the coach the Broncos picked to take what has been a playoff team the past four seasons to a championship.
And, oh yeah, both guys will be asked about the four-ton elephant that is in all the rooms. What’s the future of quarterback Peyton Manning? And does Kubiak’s hire help, hinder or have no impact on whether Manning will return for the 2015 season?
On the surface, it looks like trying to fit a square peg into a decagon hole. Kubiak has always coached a version of the West Coast offense.
Manning doesn’t play the West Coast offense. He plays the Manning offense, the one constructed for him to run at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t throw on the run, run naked bootlegs or roll out. He doesn’t do the things quarterbacks in the West Coast offense do.
In fact, Manning suffered a right thigh injury on one of the few rollouts he attempted this season on Dec. 14 in San Diego. The injury affected him the rest of the way, including in the Broncos’ loss to the Colts in the divisional round.
“I don’t think everybody should just think Kubes and Peyton can’t make it work,” said former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who played with Kubiak as his offensive coordinator in 2003, 2004 and 2005. “Kubes is so smart, and Peyton is Peyton -- one of the best of all time. They both would know they could help each other do it.”
Manning is great at play-action, one of the best of all time at tucking the ball into the running back’s torso only to pull it back and make a throw over linebackers who got reeled in. Kubiak’s offense is full of play-action plays, but they include rollouts, throws on the run to either the left or right.
They are plays based on flow and coming back against the grain. And that’s where the compromises would have to come.
Plummer said he didn’t know if Manning had the arm strength to come back across the field on play-action. And throughout the Broncos’ last nine games of the regular season as well as the loss to the Colts, defenses repeatedly put their lot into the idea Manning did not have the arm strength to beat them if they left their defenders on the sidelines in single coverage.
Colts defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois even said the unthinkable following last Sunday’s game in Denver -- that the Colts wanted the outcome in Manning’s hands. They wanted to take away the run and make Manning beat them. Manning’s decision on whether to come back likely depends on if he thinks he can still change the outcome of the game.
Kubiak would certainly protect Manning better with a quality run game and plenty of zone-blocking schemes. The Broncos’ offensive line is getting a makeover no matter who is at quarterback. Kubiak would have to adjust his game plan to the rest.
Plummer points to Kubiak’s Texans offense with Matt Schaub as an example of how he has done it in the past. “Look at those years,” he said. “Kubes would adjust if he has to. It wasn’t like Matt Schaub could move around like a lot of guys Kubes had.”
Schaub ran for 52 yards in 2007, his first season with the Texans. In 2008, he threw for 3,043 yards and rushed for 68. In 2009, Schaub threw for 4,770 yards and ran for 57. Granted, the last time Manning rushed for more than 45 yards in a season was 2002 -- 148 yards -- and last season he had a robust minus-24 yards rushing on his 24 carries/kneeldowns.
So, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Manning could return for one more season, dig in and do the work required to play at the level he believes he needs to reach to be competitive.
It wouldn’t be easy; it would take everyone involved being invested in making it work, starting with Manning and Kubiak.
But, as Plummer said: “Hell yeah, it could be done. If they both want to do it, it can be done. But the thing is they both have to want to do it.”