ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is a familiarity in what Gary Kubiak will bring the Denver Broncos, it is one of the reasons he was hired by the team’s executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway.
But it’s still worth a look at Kubiak’s time as an offensive coordinator and his eight seasons as Houston Texans head coach to see what is on the horizon.
Each of the Broncos' running backs are going to want to be the guy. From 1995, (Kubiak’s first season in Denver as the offensive coordinator on Mike Shanahan’s staff) to this past season as offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, his running backs have hit at least 1,500 yards rushing in the offense seven times, three of those seasons by Terrell Davis.
Clinton Portis (twice), Mike Anderson and Arian Foster also reached that benchmark.
No dawdling, pick-and-choose, maybe-this-maybe-that movements. Get the ball, get up the field. As former Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner often said on the practice "unless it says Barry Sanders on the back of your jersey, get your foot in the ground and get up the field."
From a football perspective, Anderson fits the mold the best, and Hillman has shown moments of decisiveness and speed to the hole. Ball has shown glimpses of that, too. But as the Broncos' ability to win the line of scrimmage waned early on this past season, Ball was at times trying to make too much of every run, and often looked hesitant as he approached the line of scrimmage.
But the Broncos backs, a look at the game video reveals, also suffered first-contact behind the line of scrimmage on roughly 32 percent of the team’s carries this season. So, the first order of business will be to smooth things out up front. But the run game is on the front burner.
Also, a big, strong, physical receiver with deep speed (like say, Demaryius Thomas) will live the play-action, deep-ball life. Twenty-one times in offenses where Kubiak was the coordinator or the team’s head coach, a player topped 1,000 yards receiving. Rod Smith topped 1,600 yards in 2000, and Andre Johnson topped 1,500 yards in 2008, 2009 and 2012. Johnson also had 1,407 yards in 2013, the year Kubiak was fired 13 games into the season and the Texans were 2-11.
Quarterbacks have topped 4,000 yards passing four times in the offense, including three by Matt Schaub in the years leading up to his 2013 struggles. Jake Plummer's 4,089 yards passing was the Broncos' first 4,000-yard passing season in franchise history, and his career best.
And this past season in Kubiak’s only season as Ravens offensive coordinator, quarterback Joe Flacco had career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdowns (27), and Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards.
So the numbers have consistently been there in the offense, touchdowns have consistently been manufactured, and the rushing yards have been carved out against a variety of defensive fronts and approaches.
The question will be defense. In Kubiak’s time as Texans head coach the team fielded a top-10 scoring defense just twice -- 2011 and 2012 -- with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator and a defensive end named J.J. Watt's arrival. It’s no accident those two seasons also marked Kubiak’s best finishes as a head coach to this point -- 10-6 in ’11 and 12-4 in ’12, both AFC South titles.