My first impression when I heard the news that the Denver Broncos had hired Gary Kubiak to replace John Fox as the 15th head coach in team history was that Peyton Manning is one step closer to retirement.
Or at least the Broncos and Manning will part ways after three years.
The 53-year-old Kubiak is known for his run-first approach, since his early days in Denver as offensive coordinator, during 2006-2013 in Houston as head coach, and most recently with the Ravens for one year as offensive coordinator this past season.
Many think his style of offense doesn’t fit the one Manning has played all his 17-year NFL career. Manning has won many games with his passing ability and his supporting cast, mainly receivers. Also, he may have to learn the a philosophy and terminology under Kubiak’s system. That should be tough for the 38-year-old quarterback.
Looking back over past Super Bowls, however, I changed my opinion. The mixture of Kubiak’s offense and Manning can be a good formula to bring another Vince Lombardi Trophy to Mile High City.
How would it work?
The Broncos offense has relied heavily on Manning the past three seasons. That has brought a remarkable 38 victories and a Super Bowl berth. But general manager John Elway has finally realized that Manning’s arm is no longer good enough to win another Super Bowl.
If Manning’s late-season struggles were due to a thigh injury, there is reason to believe he will return to form ifhe returns next season. But if his long-standing neck injury was the cause, whether he can make a comeback is anyone’s guess.
Still, Manning probably has enough left in the tank to win double-digit regular-season games, but that would not satisfy Elway and Pat Bowlen, the team’s owner.
The Broncos need another approach to win the franchise’s third Super Bowl championship, and Kubiak’s running attack could be the answer.
Kubiak’s system introduces a zone blocking scheme and cut blocking techniques by offensive linemen, which can make an average running back a 1,000-yard rusher. That system can make Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball or emerging star C.J. Anderson the next Terrell Davis, Arian Foster, or Justin Forsett, all of whom surpassed the 1,000-yard mark under Kubiak. Neither Hillman, Ball or Anderson has ever reached the 1-K mark on the ground in their combined seven-year careers.
An improved running attack would help ease Manning’s workload and make the offense more balanced. In cold weather, Manning could turn to a run-heavy attack instead of making plays with his right arm.
Yes, it has happened before in Denver. Elway guided the Broncos to five Super Bowls in his career as the quarterback, but lost the first three when he was the center of the offense.
By the time Elway played in his fourth Super Bowl, at the age of 37 after the 1997 season, he had lost the arm strength and mobility of his younger days. But the Broncos had a strong running attack led by Davis, and Elway’s experience enabled him to play smarter. Eventually, the Broncos won their first NFL title that season and defended it the following year before Elway finally called it quits.
Guess who the offensive coordinator was at that time. It was Kubiak.
The current Broncos have more talent on both sides of the ball than the 1997-1998 teams. They have top-notch receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, if they are re-signed, and pass-rushing duo DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.
Emphasizing a running attack under Kubiak doesn’t always mean reduced production in the air. Joe Flacco of the Ravens threw 554 passes, second most in his seven years in the NFL, for 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns, both career-highs, under Kubiak’s play-calling in 2014. If it works for Manning, he can have another productive season.
Mixing Kubiak’s running system with Manning is not a bad idea. If it happens, Elway can enjoy a Super Bowl run at least one more year. For Manning, retiring after winning the third title for the franchise — and a second for himself — like Elway did, would be the perfect scenario to end his Hall of Fame career.
More special plays for the Seahawks?: During the playoffs, the Patriots suddenly became known for their use of special plays, such as wide receiver Julian Edelman’s touchdown pass or putting only four offensive linemen, instead of the normal five on the line of scrimmage, or offensive tackle Nate Solder’s touchdown reception.
The Seahawks, the Patriots’ opponents in Super Bowl XLIX, ran a fake field goal during their win over the Packers in the NFC championship game. Will they prepare more for Super Sunday?
One noticeable move last week was promoting third-string quarterback B.J. Daniels to the active roster to replace wide receiver Paul Richardson, who was placed on the injured reserve due to a torn ACL. Daniels won promotion because of his kick-return ability, but Pete Carroll said the second-year player out of South Florida has played wide receiver and running back in practice.
Though he has never thrown a pass in the NFL, Daniels could be the Seahawks version of Edelman if he survives on the roster for two more weeks.
Familiar faces: The Falcons are the only team without a head coach and they’ll have to wait until the Super Bowl ends because Atlanta reportedly has decided to hire Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Quinn will be the only first-time head coach among the newly hired coaches. Each of the other six — Kubiak, Fox, Rex Ryan, Jack Del Rio, Jim Tomsula and Todd Bowles — has head coaching experience in the NFL, including on an interim basis. This will also be the first year since 2009 that no one has been brought in from outside the NFL.
Teams are emphasizing experience rather than trying new faces, because many first-time head coaches have struggled recently. Jay Gruden of the Redskins in 2014, Rob Chudzinski of the Browns and Marc Trestman of the Bears in 2013 are some examples.
College coaches are also likely have a hard time adjusting to the NFL, and many of them return to college after a few years. Greg Schiano lasted only two years with the Buccaneers. Jim Harbaugh had success with the 49ers, but he took the job at Michigan after three seasons in the Bay Area.
There are successful examples too, Chip Kelly of the Eagles in 2013 and Mike Pettine of the Browns in 2014, but many owners are conservative and want another Jim Caldwell, Bruce Arians or Andy Reid, all of whom have recently turned around teams in their second stints as head coach.
Let’s wait and see if that happens in 2015.
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