As the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos from 2000 to 2006, Larry Coyer went against Gary Kubiak's offense every day in practice. In the same role with the Indianapolis Colts from 2009 to 2011, Coyer was forced to deal with Kubiak's Houston Texans' offenses twice a year in games.
He knew exactly what to expect — the play-action passes and bootlegs, the stretch runs, the zone-blocking scheme — yet it never got any easier to stop. That's why when Coyer heard the news Monday that the Ravens had hired Kubiak as their offensive coordinator and his long-time lieutenant Rick Dennison as their quarterback coach, he immediately thought of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice and imagined the possibilities.
"It's a perfect match," said Coyer, who coached 17 seasons in the NFL. "I thought they really helped themselves. I have a lot of respect for Flacco and [Kubiak] will be very good for him. And Ray Rice's productivity in this offense will jump, I'll promise you that. The scheme will really help him."
At his introductory news conference Monday, Kubiak vowed to get right to work in fixing a Ravens' offense that fell on hard times during the 2013 season, finishing 25th in the NFL in points per game and 29th in yards per game. Flacco threw a franchise-record 22 interceptions and Rice rushed for 660 yards, his lowest output since he backed up Willis McGahee in his rookie year.
Kubiak said everything will start with the Ravens being "physical" at every position, acknowledged that running the football will "make the rest of it go" and talked about making sure that Flacco is comfortable within the revamped offense.
He didn't get into plans for specific changes, but those who have played under or against the long-time NFL coach expect the Ravens' offense to take on similar characteristics of past Kubiak-coached teams.
"I think Gary can get them back to where they were when they were rolling with Ray Rice and Joe Flacco and an offensive line with Marshal Yanda and Eugene Monroe," said former Houston Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston. "Those guys would work well with what Kubiak likes to do. He could get them back to more of a hard-nose, grinding style. They could run the ball well and throw a lot of play-action passes. He's good at getting guys to be successful."
As the offensive coordinator of the Broncos 1995 to 2005, Kubiak teamed with head coach Mike Shanahan to lead an offense that ranked in the top 10 in scoring in 10 of his 11 seasons and finished in the top two in points three times. Of course, many of those Broncos' teams had a Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway, a star running back in Terrell Davis and several standout wide receivers.
As the head coach of the Texans from 2006 to 2013, Kubiak boasted four top-10 ranked offenses in the past six seasons. Running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels emerged among the best players at their positions in the NFL while quarterback Matt Schaub made the Pro Bowl twice and led the league in passing in 2009. Coyer credited Kubiak for "getting every bit of mileage" out of Schaub.
While Kubiak obviously had different personnel in both Denver and Houston, the style and system was the same, as were often the results.
"What he's been going back to his Denver days and his Houston days, it's a zone -run game and a play-action pass game that works off the zone-run game," said NFL Films' analyst Greg Cosell. "When he was in Houston, I remember we researched it, his teams were among the best teams in the league at first-down passing because of their zone running game. It was run-action, as opposed to play-action. They were a very good run-action team on first-and-10. That's what he's been."
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who tabbed Kubiak as his third offensive coordinator in the past 13 months, said the offense that Kubiak and Dennison built in Houston "looks, in a lot of ways, like we want to look."
Kubiak, whose first coaching job in the NFL was as the quarterbacks coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, has historically employed concepts from the West Coast passing game, relying heavily on the run to set up the pass, frequently using play-action and bootlegs while getting tight ends involved. According to Pro Football Focus, only five quarterbacks threw more play-action passes than Schaub during the 2012 season though that pattern dipped this past season.
"There's a lot of deception with the offense," Winston said. "There's ... so many different ways of doing the same thing so the defense can't get a bead on it. There's screens off of every run. There are so many choices. It's a system where you can be successful."
Cosell said that Kubiak's offense will fit Flacco well. Harbaugh has said several times that Flacco is far more athletic than people think, and the strong-armed quarterback has been at his best over the past two years when he gets outside the pocket.
"Flacco can run any kind of offense," Cosell said. "This offense does take play-action shots down the field, which works for him. [Kubiak's] offense creates a single-high safety and one-on-one looks."
Before this season when the Texans' top running backs (Foster and Ben Tate) were dealing with injuries, one thing that has always been a constant with Kubiak is a commitment to the running game. From 2010 to 2012, only the Kansas City Chiefs ran the ball more than the Texans. In his 19 seasons as an NFL head coach or offensive coordinator, his offenses ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards 13 times and finished in the top five 10 times.
"You see a whole lot of the running game because they are very good at it," Coyer said. "You pretty much knew what your poison was going to be and if you couldn't stop the running game, you're going to get trampled. He'll run it 40 times. Most guys won't but he will."
Kubiak's offenses use zone-blocking schemes and rely heavily on outside stretch runs where offensive linemen open up back-side holes with cut blocks. Under run game coordinator Juan Castillo, the Ravens used some zone blocking this past season but they figure to do it much more with Kubiak and Dennison calling the shots.
Like Coyer, Cosell feels that a healthy Rice can succeed with zone schemes. However, he said that the Ravens may need to take a "hard look" at their offensive line and whether they have the personnel to play the type of style that Kubiak has long advocated.
"You can't always get the exact players that you want in one year," Cosell said. "Kubiak may look at it and tweak what he does."
Baltimore Sun reporter Matt Vensel contributed to this article.