The next Ravens season is seven months away, but we already have a frontrunner for buzzword of 2014.
Bootleg. Bootleg. Bootleg.
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Two days after the Ravens hired former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak to be their next offensive coordinator, it appears that a number of national analysts, some more reputable than others when it comes to the NFL, are talking about whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is capable of thriving in Kubiak’s offense and executing bootlegs.
Play-action passes, particularly thrown on bootlegs, are a staple of the offense Kubiak is bringing to Baltimore. Kubiak got his start as the quarterbacks coach for Steve Young with the San Francisco 49ers then followed Mike Shanahan to Denver to coach John Elway with the Broncos. Those two are among the most mobile quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. Kubiak also coached Jake Plummer in Denver and then got the most he could get out of Matt Schaub in Houston. Both those guys were pretty mobile, too.
In this offense, which is built around the zone-blocking running game (zone and blocking were the buzzwords in Baltimore last season), the offensive line and running back often will execute a hard play-fake to one side. The quarterback will keep the ball and bootleg to the back side of the play. He will be unprotected, but in most cases he will have at least a couple of options. These play-action bootlegs will create opportunities for the tight ends and wide receivers to produce chunk plays on crossing routes. The quarterback can also scramble for whatever he can get.
Before this past season, Schaub had success with play-action passes, though not all came on bootlegs. In 2012, only five quarterbacks threw more play-action passes than Schaub, according to Pro Football Focus, and 25.7 percent of his attempts came on play-action. Schaub completed 65.4 percent of those attempts for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions (he had 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions on his other throws). Schaub’s percentage of play-action passes dipped in 2013, though.
But even though the pre-Kubiak Ravens and pretty much every team has bootlegs in their playbooks, Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports doesn’t think Flacco is a fit in the offense because he is not mobile enough.
“You need a really athletic quarterback because you’re running a lot of bootlegs, and that’s not really Joe Flacco,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not that Joe Flacco isn’t a good athlete -- he’s actually a really good athlete -- but he’s not somebody you want to roll out, plant his feet and throw the ball. He’s a down-field thrower. This to me strikes me as a guy who is a really good offensive coordinator with a really good quarterback with a really bad fit for each other. I don’t see them getting better.”
But those who watch Flacco on a regular basis know that Flacco is a much more mobile quarterback than people give him credit for. Yes, he is a pocket passer, but he is also capable of making throws on the move, something we saw during the second half of the 2013 season as Flacco was pretty efficient when forced to flee from the pocket.
Former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian also wonders how Flacco will fit in Kubiak’s offense, but unlike Gottlieb, he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“The bootleg is a huge part of Gary Kubiak’s offense,” Polian said on the air recently. “We played against it in Indianapolis for five years. It’s going to be interesting to see Joe Flacco operating that, and he is much more athletic than people think.”
Considering that the national media has already latched on to the bootleg topic, I have a feeling we are going to hear a lot of talk about bootlegs over the next few months.