NFL Nation: Gary Kubiak

Ravens Camp Report: Day 13

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
5:15
PM ET
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:
  • Joe Flacco had one of his roughest days of camp, throwing late and high on many of his passes. It got so bad that Flacco cursed at himself. Flacco later was picked off by 49ers' rookie fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson, who returned the interception for a touchdown.
  • Wide receiver Michael Campanaro stood out with his shifty route-running over the middle. The rookie seventh-round pick even earned a handshake from coach John Harbaugh after one catch. Campanaro continues to show flashes as slot receiver. The question is whether he can stay healthy.
  • Another rookie who drew attention was third-round pick Terrence Brooks. Buried on the depth chart for most of camp, Brooks received time with the first-team defense. Injuries to Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) prompted the Ravens to move safety Darian Stewart to nickelback and promote Brooks to starting free safety. Brooks also got a few snaps at nickelback. He is fast but he's still learning the defense.
  • Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was criticized in Houston for not throwing to the end zone when the Texans reached the red zone. That trend has carried over to the Ravens. It's hard to remember a time in camp when the Ravens haven't throw underneath during red zone drills.
  • The Ravens didn't fare well in one-on-one pass blocking drills between their running backs and tight ends against the 49ers linebackers. Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Owen Daniels were the only ones to hold their own for the Ravens. Bernard Pierce got beat on his first two tries and then was briefly shaken up after his third attempt to block.
  • Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe did a solid job against 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith. Monroe had struggled at times in going against Terrell Suggs during camp.
  • Schedule: The Ravens hold their third and final joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers at 10:30 a.m. ET Monday. The players get a day off Tuesday.
  • Injury wire: Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) likely suffered a season-ending injury during practice. ... Cornerback Asa Jackson had to be helped off the field with a "minor" ankle injury, according to Harbaugh. ... Tight end Dennis Pitta missed practice but did come out on the field to watch. "He had a little tweak, and I decided to hold him back and get with a trainer," Harbaugh said. ... Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) missed his 11th straight practice. He last practiced July 25. ... Guard Will Rackley (head), guard Ryan Jensen (ankle) and safety Brynden Trawick (back) also didn't practice. ... Nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list. ... Defensive end Brent Urban (torn ACL) is out for the season.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are banking on a different offensive coordinator and a new big-name target in the passing game to change their fortunes in 2014, but the jury is out because the offense has been up and down so far in camp.

The biggest reason the Ravens didn't defend their Super Bowl title and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons is because of the fourth-worst offense in the league. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw the second-most interceptions in the league, running back Ray Rice averaged a career-low 3.1 yards per carry and the Ravens scored 20 or fewer points in all but one of the team's losses.

Flacco has looked inconsistent so far in camp while Rice appears to have regained his explosiveness after shedding 15 pounds.

The Ravens' offense will have a different look this season after hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator and signing wide receiver Steve Smith in free agency. In Kubiak's system, Flacco will have to get the ball out his hands quicker, make shorter throws and run more bootlegs. The emphasis has been noticeable in drills as Flacco has tried to get rid of the ball after 3-5 steps.

How much improvement Flacco makes in Kubiak's system will likely determine how much improvement the Ravens make this season.

"The thing I like about what Coach Kubiak is doing, it’s a very straightforward offense. It’s very clear-cut," Harbaugh said. "That helps maybe get guys up to speed as quick as possible. But yes, there are always nuances, and you have to experience things sometimes. I’d like to think that we’ll be better at it a year from now than where we are this year, but we can’t be thinking about it that way. We’ve got to get great at it right now, because we’re going to be playing a football game very soon. It happens to be the Cincinnati Bengals, who won our division last year, so that’s what we’re looking at and that’s what we've got to be ready for.”

The football world hasn't been focused on the Ravens' new-look offense. The center of attention has been Rice, who was suspended two games by the NFL for his alleged domestic violence incident.

The Ravens want to get back to their roots of running the football again, and the key is getting Rice back on track. Can Rice have a productive season after such a tumultuous offseason? He certainly thinks so.

"The football field is my safe haven," Rice said. "Honestly, just coming here being a part of the offseason program, getting in shape, working and doing the things that I’ve always been doing on the football field, [I’m] feeling like my old self again. It’s given me some inspiration to go out there and not only just go out there and play football. It’s giving me inspiration to go out there and be the best football player I can be."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco and Gary Kubiak
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyOffensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a proven record of success.
1. Gary Kubiak's track record. Kubiak brings a proven system and an impressive résumé. As head coach of the Houston Texans, the team ranked in the top 10 in offense in six of his last eight seasons. To put that in perspective, the Ravens’ offense hasn't ranked in the top 10 since 1997, when Flacco was 12 years old. From 2009 to 2012, the Texans ranked No. 7 in points scored (23.2). Over that same period, the Texans were one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in rushing and passing (the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles were the others). The players have praised Kubiak during camp for his direct approach which doesn't leave much gray area.

2. Aggressiveness on defense. The Ravens' offensive struggles last season overshadowed the shortcomings of their defense. In the second half of the season, the Ravens managed a paltry 12 sacks in eight games. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns had fewer. The relentlessly attacking style had disappeared. Based on what the Ravens have shown so far in camp, they want to get back to "in your face" defense. The Ravens certainly have personnel to get after the quarterback with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil crashing the edges. Expect more blitzes and more press coverage out a Ravens defense that has its sights on becoming a top-five unit in the NFL again, and so far in camp a re-energzied Suggs has been leading the way.

3. Improved targets in passing game. Flacco has taken heavy criticism for the worst season in his six-year NFL career, and rightfully so. He made poor decisions that cost the Ravens some games. Let's just not put all of the blame on the former Super Bowl MVP's shoulders. By Week 2 last year, his No. 2 receiver was undrafted rookie Marlon Brown and his top tight end was Dallas Clark, who has since retired. This year, Flacco has two new experienced targets in Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. While Daniels hasn't looked explosive in training camp, Smith has quickly developed a rapport with Flacco. Don't forget about tight end Dennis Pitta, who is fully recovered after missing 12 games last season with a dislocated hip. This could turn out to be Flacco's strongest and deepest supporting cast.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Lack of depth at cornerback. The Ravens have one of the best starting cornerback tandems in the league with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, both of whom are Pro Bowl-caliber defenders. The problem is neither has a history of staying healthy. Webb, who is already expected to miss two preseason games with a back injury, has torn two knee ligaments during his five-year NFL career and has started 16 games in a season only once. Smith has missed nine games in his three NFL seasons. After Aaron Ross suffered a season-ending Achilles injury before camp officially began, the Ravens have been left with inexperienced and unproven backups. Chykie Brown played 3 percent of the defensive snaps last season, Asa Jackson has never played a defensive snap in a regular-season game and Tramain Jacobs and Deji Olatoye are undrafted rookies. This is the Ravens' soft spot. Brown has struggled the most of any defender in camp and Jackson has had his share of struggles as well.

2. The progression of the offensive line. There's no doubt that the Ravens will have a better offensive line than last year. To be honest, it couldn't be worse. The line opened few holes in the running game and allowed too much pressure on Flacco. The biggest question on offense is whether this line has improved enough to the point where the Ravens can be effective. Through almost a dozen practices at camp, the line hasn't provided too many definitive answers. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have been dominant. But left tackle Eugene Monroe has had struggles and right tackle Rick Wagner has been adequate. Center Jeremy Zuttah is athletic but he's not going to be considered among the top half at his position. The Ravens will learn more about their offensive line when the preseason begins.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Terrell Suggs
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyAn energized Terrell Suggs has looked like the best defender in Ravens' camp.
3. Age of key players. The Ravens are much younger than when they won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. That being said, the Ravens' hopes rest on aging veterans to rebound from disappointing seasons. Suggs, 31, failed to record a sack in seven of his final eight games in 2013. Steve Smith, 35, caught his fewest passes (64) since 2010. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 30, hasn't reached 60 tackles in consecutive seasons. Defensive end Chris Canty, 31, finished last season with 30 tackles, the fewest for a full season in his career. Daniels, 31, was limited to five games last season due to a broken leg. The Ravens need to get more than leadership out of their older players this season. While Suggs and Smith have been among the top performers in camp, Canty and Daniels haven’t stood out.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • As camp reaches its midway point, Flacco gets a "C" grade. He's made his share of good passes, and there have been some throws that have made coaches cringe. His biggest improvements has been his play-action fakes and his cadence, which he has used to draw more defenders offside than any previous training camp.
  • It's hard to overlook Suggs because he's always trash-talking with players on offense. But he has stood out in this camp as the most impressive player on the defensive side of the ball. There have been times when he's been dominant. Offensive tackles Monroe and Wagner probably can't wait for the preseason to start, so they get a break from seeing an energized Suggs in front of them.
  • The Ravens have to feel like they got two first-round picks this year in inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Mosley is continually around the ball, and Jernigan is constantly in the backfield. If Mosley makes the same types of plays in the regular season, the Ravens' top pick has a shot at being the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Jernigan, a second-round pick, has been sidelined recently with a back injury. But it's not expected to be long term, which is a big relief for the Ravens.
  • Bernard Pierce has been the best running back in camp. He played in a similar running scheme in college, and he has had the best transition to Kubiak's stretch, zone-blocking runs.
  • Fulback Kyle Juszczyk has a chance to have a breakout season. While he isn't the typical physical blocker that the Ravens have at fullback, Juszczyk will make a much bigger impact in the passing game.
  • Will Hill looks to be the most talented safety on the roster. He's suspended for the first six games of the season, so the former New York Giants defender won't provide immediate help. Don't be surprised if Hill is a starter at some point this year for the Ravens.
  • The biggest surprise of camp has been wide receiver Kamar Aiken. He started camp as a long shot, and he has quickly worked himself into the conversation for one of the last spots at receiver. Aiken, who has been cut by three teams in his career, rarely drops a pass because of his strong hands.

Throughout the entire offseason, the Baltimore Ravens have talked about how they believe quarterback Joe Flacco will succeed in Gary Kubiak's offense.

"It’s a timing offense, and to me, Joe is really built for that," coach John Harbaugh said.

In Kubiak's new system, Flacco likely will be asked to get the ball out quicker. Kubiak is teaching him to throw when he hits the ball of his foot on the three-step drop. The West Coast offense is predicated on rhythm and quick releases.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Ravens are hoping quarterback Joe Flacco will be better off with a quicker release.
Based on last season's numbers, the Ravens may be on to something. Flacco was better when he had less time in the pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.

It came as a surprise to see that Flacco had put up better statistics with less time in the pocket. With his big arm, it was assumed he would've performed better when he had more time to look downfield. That wasn't the case in 2013.

With less than 2 seconds in the pocket, Flacco completed 68.3 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 80.5.

With more than 3 seconds to throw, he connected on 46.2 percent of his passes for two touchdown and four interceptions. His rating was 61.1.

Getting Flacco to throw the ball quicker also will help with his longevity. He was sacked a career-high 48 times last season, and he was limping in the final two games because of a knee sprain. During the past six seasons, Flacco hasn't missed a start, but he has been sacked 222 times. Only the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (240) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (223) have been sacked more.

There also will be more targets for his short-to-intermediate throws this season. He can hit wide receiver Steve Smith on a comeback route or find tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels over the middle. This should increase the efficiency for Flacco, whose 6.94 yards per attempt ranks 21st in the NFL since 2008.

Asked if Kubiak's offense is catered to what he does best as a quarterback, Flacco said: "I feel like I fit well into any offense. It’s just a matter of learning it and doing what I can do to the best of my ability and making sure that what I’m doing well is what the offensive coordinator wants, and what the quarterback coach wants. I want to run the offense the way it is supposed to be run and make some plays here and there when they need to be made.

"But the biggest thing is doing what you’re supposed to do, going to the right place with the ball with the right coverages. That’s just learning the offense and listening to your coach and making sure you get comfortable doing it that way.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If you couldn't guess by Jacoby Jones' "I Love Bmore" hat that he wanted to stay with the Ravens, the electric Pro Bowl returner proved it by abruptly ending his visit with the New York Giants on Wednesday and taking less money to remain in Baltimore.

"I'm in the [Giants] facility walking around and I think I came to my senses really that this is probably the only place that will let me be myself," Jones said Thursday.

Jones
Jones was getting in a car to go to downtown New York for a dinner with the Giants before he officially pulled a reverse.

"I told the driver, head toward Newark. Take me to the airport," Jones said. "I told my agent that I knew I was coming home."

Jones signed a four-year, $12 million deal that includes $4.5 million guaranteed. How much less was the Ravens' offer compared the one from the Giants?

"I don't know," Jones said with a smile. "I'm not good at math."

One incentive to stay was the addition of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. Kubiak was Jones' head coach for five seasons (2007-11) when both were with the Houston Texans.

Jones referred to Kubiak as his "biological father" because he never knew his own father. He remembered a conversation during his time in Houston when Kubiak sat him down after he was a self-described "knucklehead."

"He told me when you slow down and mature, you're going to have a chance to make a lot of money," Jones said.

Jones was cut by the Texans in May 2012 after he mishandled a punt that led to Houston's playoff loss at Baltimore. He joined the Ravens and redefined himself as one of the top playmakers in the league.

In two seasons, Jones has scored 10 touchdowns in 28 games. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.

Coach John Harbaugh insisted that the Ravens brought back Jones to be more than a returner, even though he has caught 67 passes in two seasons in Baltimore.

"He's also a quality receiver," Harbaugh said. "He's a special-teams player, but he's also a guy that can do the things that you need to do to move the chains when you need to move them. It's something that he's probably grown into over the last three or four years as a football player. Without question, we believe his best football is in front of him."

Trending up: Houston Texans

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
10:00
AM ET
When I listed the Houston Texans as trending up in my season-in-review, it produced the following response from one of my esteemed colleagues: "That might be the most ridiculous thing you've ever written." Debatable, given that I once did a post entirely about 90s rap that focused on one-hit wonders such as Vanilla Ice. But I invited the opportunity to explain myself.

After all, the rest of my review of 2013 was decidedly negative. The Texans didn't meet anyone's expectations -- least of all their own -- last season as they hurdled through a nonstop carousel of problems. They finished with the worst record in the NFL and suffered a franchise record 14-game losing streak.

Despite all that, this team is trending up. They made a big change in replacing former coach Gary Kubiak with Bill O'Brien, and his changes have already started taking effect. Absent psychic ability (in which case, please call me) none of us knows how the O'Brien era will go on the field, but the opportunity for positive change is there. Add to that the top pick in the draft, something that partially removes the luck element from that process, and Houston is well positioned for recovery.

Seven other NFL Nation reporters covering non-playoff teams listed their teams as trending up. The eight of us got together and ranked the teams from which one we most expected to make the playoffs next season to which we least expected. As you can see below, I wasn't alone in my optimism about Houston's 2014 season.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh denied being mandated to hire Gary Kubiak as his offensive coordinator after a surprising turn of events in the team's search.

Kubiak
There has been speculation that owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome influenced Harbaugh's decision because Kubiak emerged so late in the process. The Ravens reportedly were down to two other finalists after a two-week search, and then turned their attention to Kubiak late last week.

Asked whether Bisciotti was heavy-handed in the process, Harbaugh said, "Steve is always involved. Steve’s going to be involved. This is his team, and he sets the tone and the tempo for everything we do, and I listen, as we all do, to Steve’s advice. It would be foolish not to. Now, if you’re going further than that, then the answer is ‘no, no way.’ Steve gets involved to whatever extent he feels like he can help us, and that’s what he does."

Harbaugh named four candidates for the offensive coordinator position last week: former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson (who is now with the Minnesota Vikings) and Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler.

The Ravens conducted second interviews with Shanahan, Hostler and Wilson at the end of last week. Wilson told reporters Saturday that he was eliminated from contention. There were multiple reports that Harbaugh was going to choose between Shanahan and Hostler.

So, what changed? Harbaugh acknowledged that it was those four candidates at that point because "I don’t think coach [Kubiak] and I had come to the idea that it could work."

Harbaugh added, "At the time, we talked about the four of them, then continued conversations with Gary and with Rick [Dennison], and that evolved, I would say, in the last few days -- last five or six days."

Kubiak said he didn't begin talking to Harbaugh until the last few days. It wasn't until Sunday night at the dinner table of Harbaugh's home that the sides realized it could work.

"Of course, Gary Kubiak was on the list from the beginning," Harbaugh said, "but within the last week, it became apparent that this had a chance to be a fit for both coach and for the Ravens, and we were able to finish it up this weekend.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three of the Jaguars who participated in this NFL Nation confidential survey are probably a bit disappointed today. The survey asked which NFL coach other than their own they’d most like to play for .

Their choice is unemployed.

Those three players picked Gary Kubiak, who at the time of the survey was still the Houston Texans' coach. He was fired on Dec. 6, one day after the Jaguars beat the Texans for the second time in 2013.

Kubiak received the most votes of any coach among the 10 players surveyed. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin was the only other coach to receive multiple votes. He was named twice. San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, and New England’s Bill Belichick each got one vote.

It’s understandable why Kubiak received more votes than anyone else. He coached a division rival so the players are familiar with him. Several players also are friends with Texans fullback Greg Jones, who spent the first nine season of his career with the Jaguars before signing with Houston as a free agent last March.

Carroll was the coach most named by the 320 players who participated in the survey. He got 72 votes. Tomlin received 44.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens announced Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator Monday, they also named Rick Dennison as the quarterbacks coach. Make no mistake: Getting Joe Flacco back on track is Kubiak's project.

The Ravens can talk about having a rough and tough philosophy on offense. They can preach about the importance of the running game. How Kubiak will be measured as an offensive coordinator is his impact on Flacco.

It was 11 months ago when the Ravens invested $52 million in guaranteed money in Flacco. Every move this offseason, beginning with the hiring of the offensive coordinator, has to be made with the focus of making Flacco better. If the Ravens want to get back to the Super Bowl, they need the deep-ball-throwing Flacco from January 2013 and not the interception-prone Flacco from last season.

"You definitely build your offense around your quarterback," coach John Harbaugh said. "It starts with Joe, and those are conversations that we've had going forward. So, we are going to do whatever we can to make Joe the best player he can be, and Joe is fired up about that."

This is why it's dumbfounding that it took the Ravens two weeks to complete their search. It should've taken two days. When the Ravens started look for their next play-caller, there were two candidates that stood out from the rest: Kubiak and Norv Turner. And, if the Browns weren't going to give the Ravens permission to speak to Turner, the no-brainer choice was Kubiak.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Nick WassJoe Flacco passed for 3,912 yards with 19 TDs and a career-worst 22 interceptions in 2013.
Why? Just look at his track record with quarterbacks:

In 2000, Brian Griese led the NFL with a 102.9 passer rating.

In 2004, Jake Plummer ranked fourth in the league with 4,089 yards passing, one more than Brett Favre.

In 2009, Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing with 4,770 yards.

Three mediocre quarterbacks, three unbelievable results. Flacco has a better tool set than all of those quarterbacks, and even the harshest critic would agree with that. It had to cross the Ravens' mind that, if Kubiak can work this magic with an average-at-best quarterback like Schaub, imagine how much of a positive influence he can have on Flacco.

It comes as no surprise that Kubiak had already chatted with Flacco before his introductory news conference began. Their relationship will go a long ways in turning around the NFL's 29th-ranked offense.

"It's our job to find the things that Joe is comfortable with and to make him as successful as we possibly can. And we'll do that," Kubiak said. "I'm just looking forward to sitting down with Joe and really picking his brain in a lot of ways and [seeing] how he has been taught and what he's done in the past. He's a championship quarterback, and that's all you can ask for as a coach in this league."

This is just the start to the offense's reclamation project. The Ravens need to find another wide receiver. They have to find a way to either keep Dennis Pitta or bring in another pass-catching tight end. They have to bring back Eugene Monroe or get someone else just as reliable to protect Flacco's blind side.

In the end, it comes down to Flacco. The Ravens were Super Bowl champions when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs. Baltimore was an 8-8 team when he had 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

This is why the Ravens needed Kubiak. The Ravens and Flacco are in a much better spot today than they were when the season ended, just based on Kubiak's history with elevating a quarterback's play.

"Joe and I need to sit down together, and I need to talk to him about how he feels with what he’s done up to this point -- how he feels about the future and what he thinks he needs to do better," Kubiak said. "I need to take my vision of that and study Joe over the course of the [next few weeks] -- starting here very early [Tuesday] morning. And together, we come up with that plan -- how we make him better, how we progress as a player."
All signs point to the Baltimore Ravens naming Gary Kubiak their offensive coordinator as well as adding Kyle Shanahan and Rick Dennison to the staff. What does this all mean? Let's take a look.

When did Kubiak become a candidate?

Judging by how the search unfolded, it looks like Kubiak became a viable option late in the process. Coach John Harbaugh named four candidates last week to the team's official website, and Kubiak wasn't mentioned. The interest in Kubiak gives the impression that the Ravens had a change of plans after second interviews with Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson. Kubiak should've been near the top of the Ravens' list when the search began. But he's still getting paid by the Houston Texans and he reportedly turned down the Cleveland Browns when they looked at him as coordinator. So, the Ravens must have made it worth his while to peak his interest.

How will the offensive staff look?

It's all speculation at this point. The most logical move is Shanahan becoming the quarterbacks coach. He served in that role in Houston in 2007. What will be interesting is to see how Dennison fits. Before Dennison was the Texans' offensive coordinator for the past three years, his background was the offensive line. But Harbaugh has already named Juan Castillo as his offensive line coach. How Harbaugh defines Dennison's responsibilities will be more important than his title. The only other opening on the offensive staff right now is running backs coach, and I don't envision Harbaugh putting Dennison at this spot with no prior experience at this position. It's unknown whether there will be further shakeup. The other offensive coaches on staff -- wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, tight ends coach Wade Harman and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller -- have all been with Harbaugh since he came to Baltimore in 2008.

Are there too many "cooks in the kitchen?"

This was asked by Scott Graham, one of my Twitter followers. I can understand the question because you don't want too many voices in Joe Flacco's ear. This was a problem years ago when Brian Billick, Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel all had their own opinions on the direction of the offense. But Kubiak has a history with Dennison and Shanahan. Dennison has worked under Kubiak for 11 years, and Shanahan has been on his staff for four years. They know how to put a game plan together, and it showed in the results with the offenses in Denver and Houston. In the end, it's better to bring in three coaches with a proven track record than simply promote within just to keep cohesion.
A few days ago a reader posed this question to me:

It's a reasonable thing to ask, and I promised an answer in a blog post. (As an aside, I'll do this more frequently during the offseason. Thoughtful questions that require more than 140-character responses might get posts.)

When Texans owner Bob McNair fired former head coach Gary Kubiak, part of his decision was influenced by Kubiak's seeming indecision with his quarterbacks.

The night before being fired, Kubiak had pulled Keenum from the Texans' loss in Jacksonville to try and win with Matt Schaub. It was the second time Kubiak had pulled Keenum during a game after declaring the first-year player his starter. Keenum had struggled in both of those games and wasn't seeming to get better, but Kubiak's waffling only seemed to make things worse. Upon firing Kubiak, McNair declared that Wade Phillips would be interim head coach and Keenum would start the rest of the season.

"We need to find out whether Case is capable of being a starter or whether he's capable of being a backup," McNair said that day. "And the way you find that out is by playing him."

What McNair saw in the next game, before a thumb injury ended his season, was a quarterback who had trouble adjusting to pressure and who tried to use his legs to get out of trouble far too often. Sure, when his improvisation succeeded the results were impressive, but those times were the exception. It wasn't that Keenum didn't know what to do. Both he and Phillips said he did. Keenum just didn't react in the ways he knew he should. He made the wrong decision repeatedly.

Keenum
Keenum
In my post about the Texans' offensive line, I noted that Keenum averaged about 3.7 seconds from snap to sack, which is a decent amount of time. One commenter suggested that time was because Keenum bought time for himself while under pressure. The problem is, if you're buying time and then getting sacked anyway, that's not good either. It's part of why he led the NFL in yards lost per sack last season, losing an average of 10.58 yards per sack.

Maybe Keenum stopped trusting himself. Maybe with the right coaches and a competition, he'll recover and improve. Sometimes a quarterback improves later in his career, though few are given the chance for that kind of growth these days.

The problem is you don't know. He's not there yet, at the point where he has established himself as a capable starting NFL quarterback. Sure, there would be unknowns with a drafted rookie, too. But in that case, the same thing that worked for Keenum in October could go against him now. The less a quarterback has had a chance to show, the greater his potential upside.
The Miami Dolphins are not wasting any time in an effort to fill their offensive coordinator vacancy.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor and former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak are among the early candidates.

Lazor was in Miami on Wednesday interviewing with the Dolphins, Schefter reports. Lazor did wonders with Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who started the season as a backup and led Philadelphia to the playoffs and an NFC East title. Miami needs someone to work closely with starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is entering an important third season. Therefore, the interest makes sense.

Kubiak is one of the biggest names on the market for coordinators and was one of the NFL's top offensive minds during his stint with the Denver Broncos. But his up-and-down tenure as head coach with the Houston Texans came to an end this season. Kubiak most likely will get interest for several openings.

The Dolphins fired former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman on Monday. This year, Miami was 27th in total offense and 26th in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
Former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak formally interviewed with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, according to multiple media reports.

Kubiak, who was fired as the Texans head coach in December after almost eight seasons with the franchise, is the second candidate to officially interview with the club. He joins Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who interviewed Friday.

Kubiak
ESPN Insider Ed Werder reported earlier Tuesday that the Lions will interview former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak this Friday. The Lions have also have reportedly asked for permission to talk with Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the job is Whisenhunt’s to lose.

All of these candidates fit a similar profile for the Lions. They have been head coaches at some level -- all except Gruden in the NFL -- and all come from an offensive background. Other than Munchak, all have worked extensively with quarterbacks at some point in their careers.

As for Kubiak, he coached Houston from 2006 until Week 14 of this season, when he was fired by the Texans. He compiled a 61-64 record over that span, including two AFC South titles and two playoff appearances.

He also developed quarterback Matt Schaub, who made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2012 and had three seasons of more than 4,000 yards passing. Schaub completed more than 61 percent of his passes in each of his seasons with Kubiak.

Kubiak’s team plummeted this season to a 2-11 record before he was fired. He collapsed at halftime of a Nov. 3 game against Indianapolis while having a “transient ischemic attack,” or mini-stroke, on the field.

Prior to his head coaching stint with Houston, Kubiak was the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos from 1995 to 2005, working with John Elway, Brian Griese and Jake Plummer, under former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.

He also worked for San Francisco as its quarterbacks coach in 1994 with Steve Young.

Kubiak is an intriguing candidate in some ways. His offenses with Houston were in the top half of the NFL -- often in the Top 10 -- in all but his first and last seasons with the Texans. When he was with the Broncos, his offense was also routinely in the top half of the league.

He also turned Griese into a Pro Bowler in 2000 and Plummer into a Pro Bowler in 2005.

A message left with Kubiak seeking comment about his interview was not immediately returned. Kubiak's interview was first reported by Fox 2 in Detroit.
Peyton Manning and Johnathan JosephUSA Today Sports, Icon SMIComing off an unexpected loss, will Peyton Manning's Broncos overlook Johnathan Joseph's Texans?

Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.

"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."

This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.

Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.

On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?

Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.

Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?

Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.

You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?

Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.

An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?

Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.

That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?

Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.

How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?

Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
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J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

Andre JohnsonAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackAndre Johnson made history with his 13-catch, 154-yard night. But he couldn't get the Texans a win.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When he caught the pass, that wasn't the end of his work. Andre Johnson kept his eyes open for the right move to make next. He caught the ball from a young, struggling quarterback, scooted several yards to his right, found a hole to run through and gained 6 yards.

It was a play made harder than it should have been, but one Johnson made the best of anyway. In that way, it parallels his career.

On Thursday night, with a 27-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans lost their 11th consecutive game, making it official they would miss the playoffs after winning the AFC South the past two years.

On Thursday night, Johnson became the first receiver in NFL history to have 20 or more games with at least 10 catches and 100 yards. He tied Jerry Rice with 10 games of at least 10 catches and 150 yards. Johnson's 13 catches and 154 yards led the game.

He spoke slowly, softly and deliberately when asked about it, his voice shrugging for him.

"I don’t really think about stuff like that," Johnson said. "To accomplish something that in my book the greatest probably player to ever play the game, to do something he’s done, it’s very humbling. I’m just out here working, trying to do everything I can to help the team."

By halftime, Johnson had only two catches for 14 yards out of the five passes that quarterback Case Keenum threw to him. It was in the second half that things changed for Johnson, even before the spark provided by the return of quarterback Matt Schaub.

"I didn’t do nothing different," Johnson said. "Just had more opportunities and just try to make plays when they came my way."

Keenum targeted Johnson five times in the third quarter before being benched for Schaub. Johnson caught three of those passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 40 percent of Keenum's passes for Johnson were off target.

Schaub, meanwhile, didn't throw any of his passes off target to Johnson. Johnson caught eight of the 11 passes thrown to him by Schaub and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt to Keenum's 5.6 yards per attempt on throws to Johnson.

Johnson was targeted a career-high 21 times Thursday -- the second-most targets for any player in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

It makes sense.

"You don’t even have to look at numbers to know that dude’s a special guy," Keenum said. "He cares a lot about this team. He puts us on his shoulders and carries us quite a bit."

Well, he tries. The Texans, who are 2-11 overall, are 1-5 this season in games in which Johnson has had at least 100 yards receiving.

It has been that kind of career for Johnson.

Eight quarterbacks have started at least one game for the Texans since Johnson was drafted. The NFL record he set Thursday speaks to his longevity. That he has done it in the face of so much change at the position getting him the ball speaks to his versatility. He makes the jobs of his quarterbacks easier.

He also has provided a model for young receivers to follow. Those who do, like last year's third-round pick DeVier Posey, who asked for his locker to be put next to Johnson's, benefit from it.

Johnson thought the lean years were behind him, like that 2-14 season in 2005 that led to a No. 1 overall draft pick. But here they are again.

Through it, even amid whispers about his diminishing ability, Johnson has produced.

"He's been a man," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Been a man all year long. Probably has a chance to have his biggest year, I don't know. But he's never changed."

Could be.

Last season, Johnson set a career mark for receiving yards in a season with 1,598. He needs 322 over the next three games to set a new personal best. Next week, he'll face the Indianapolis Colts, against whom he caught nine passes for 229 yards in the teams' first meeting this season.

Last week against the Patriots, Johnson became the second-fastest player in NFL history to catch 900 passes. Only Marvin Harrison did it faster.

None of it means as much to Johnson as a Super Bowl would have this season.

"Just frustration," he said, when asked of his emotions as the Jaguars intercepted a pass to essentially end Thursday's game. "We just want to win. I'm tired of losing."

It has all been much harder than things often are for a player of his caliber.

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