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The running game under Kubiak

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Can we learn anything by looking at how the running game has fared under Kubiak at head coach for the Texans from 2006-2013 and as offensive coordinator for the Ravens in 2014?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Gary Kubiak is not our offensive coordinator. Rick Dennison is, but if you think that Kubiak is not going to have an influence on the offense, you are gravely mistaken.

The offense the Broncos run in 2015 will be dramatically different from the offense we ran in 2014. While I don't think we are going to adopt the naked bootleg offense we ran a decade ago with Jake Plummer, I do think we will rely heavily on the zone blocking run game and passes predicated upon it.

I am going to look at how the running game was deployed in Houston and Baltimore when Kubiak was having an effect on the play-calling for those teams (2006-2013 in Houston and 2014 in Baltimore).

How often did they run?

Data for this piece is pulled from NFL.com and from football outsiders

Run/Pass
Kubiak's Team Broncos NFL Ave
2014 44.7% 42.2% 43.4%
2013 39.5% 40.6% 43.4%
2012 47.8% 45.0% 44.0%
2011 53.9% 56.0% 44.6%
2010 42.4% 40.7% 44.6%
2009 41.7% 44.1% 45.3%
2008 43.8% 38.4% 46.1%
2007 44.1% 45.4% 45.1%
2006 47.3% 51.8% 46.9%

Going back to the 2006 season, Kubiak's offenses have only run a little more often than the league in general (45.0 percent vs. 44.8 percent).

Interestingly enough, during that time period we have had almost exactly the same run rate - 44.9 percent - averaged over all nine years.  Kubiak has not necessarily called for (or suggested) more running plays, but during his best seasons as head coach for the Texans, they were No.1 and No. 2 in total rushing attempts.

So when Kubiak's teams have been most successful, they have been near the top of the league in total carries. Where have the runs gone when his offenses have run?

Running Direction

rank in LEFT LEFT MID/ RIGHT RIGHT
Team carries END TACKLE GUARD TACKLE END
2014 BAL 7 5% 17% 49% 24% 5%
2013 HOU 13 10% 17% 49% 15% 10%
2012 HOU 2 16% 18% 40% 15% 11%
2011 HOU 1 10% 16% 41% 19% 14%
2010 HOU 11 12% 15% 38% 19% 15%
2009 HOU 21 7% 19% 45% 19% 10%
2008 HOU 17 10% 13% 51% 18% 9%
2007 HOU 23 8% 12% 49% 18% 11%
2006 HOU 26 7% 10% 62% 14% 6%
2006-14 NFL AVE N/A 11% 14% 51% 14% 10%

So we see that when the Texans' running game was most successful (2010-12), it relied on the old zone stretch play left - running at the left edge of the field and generally not running up the middle much. That 38 percent middle run number was one of the lower values in the league that year (Detroit was the lowest with only 33 percent of its runs up the middle in 2010). The lowest middle run percentage for any team over this entire time period was the 2007 Packers who only ran up the middle 26 percent of the time.

It's also interesting to note that during his one year in Baltimore, while reviving the flagging career of Justin Forsett, Kubiak called significantly fewer outside runs than he did in his best years in Houston.

So where have we run when we have run during this same time period?

LEFT LEFT MID/ RIGHT RIGHT
END TACKLE GUARD TACKLE END
2014 DEN 9% 10% 63% 10% 8%
2013 DEN 9% 13% 57% 14% 7%
2012 DEN 6% 14% 59% 15% 7%
2011 DEN 5% 9% 67% 12% 6%
2010 DEN 10% 17% 46% 18% 9%
2009 DEN 11% 13% 51% 13% 13%
2008 DEN 14% 14% 51% 12% 9%
2007 DEN 15% 16% 41% 14% 14%
2006 DEN 10% 18% 49% 18% 5%

What should jump out at you about this is the number of middle runs that we have called going back to 2011, even leaving out all of the Tim Tebow runs up the middle from 2011, we have been way above average in terms of calling runs in the G-C-G region (NFL average in 2014 was 52 percent) over the past three years with Peyton Manning at the helm.

Conversely we have called a slightly below average number of outside runs. Let's compare the Broncos to the NFL average and see how that looks in table form:

Denver Compared to NFL Average
LEFT LEFT MID/ RIGHT RIGHT
END TACKLE GUARD TACKLE END
2014 -2% -3% 11% -3% -2%
2013 -2% 0% 3% 1% -2%
2012 -6% 0% 7% 1% -2%
2011 -6% -6% 17% -2% -5%
2010 -1% 3% -4% 4% -1%
2009 0% 0% 1% -2% 2%
2008 3% 0% 1% -2% -1%
2007 4% 1% -9% 0% 4%
2006 -2% 3% 0% 4%

-5%


For the past four seasons, we have run up the middle more than the average NFL team and consistently had fewer edge runs (LE and RE) than the rest of the league.

How well did they do when they ran where they ran?

Our 2015 offensive line will feature four starters who didn't start or at least didn't start a majority of the games in 2014.

One of the reasons for this is our shift to the "true" zone blocking scheme (shift to 100 percent zone from the 50/50 that we have been using for the past four years). This will require lighter, quicker and more agile linemen than we generally had last year (Paul Cornick and Manny Ramirez being the two worst).

The linemen Kubiak used in Houston were generally in the ZBS "mold." Let's see how well the Texans (and Ravens) did when they run where they ran with their ZBS offensive lines (league ranks shown - ranks in adjusted line yards):

LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MID/GUARD RIGHT TACKLE RIGHT END
Team Rank Rank Rank Rank Rank
2014 BAL 5 16 9 1 17
2013 HOU 14 29 3 18 3
2012 HOU 2 28 13 2 15
2011 HOU 23 17 3 12 9
2010 HOU 19 9 1 10 12
2009 HOU 24 28 9 12 10
2008 HOU 10 31 8 20 14
2007 HOU 5 13 11 5 18
2006 HOU 15 32 11 11 14

I find it interesting that the Texans in 2010-12 found their greatest success running up the middle. They still ran the ball as much or more than anybody in the league during those years, but they were only average or below average in terms of gaining yards on those runs in most years most directions.

The Ravens were the best team in the league last year at running behind their RT, and they also ran behind their RT more than other team in the league last season (24percent). The next highest team in the league (tree-way tie) only ran 18 percdnt of the time behind their RT (once we know who our RT is going to be next season, that might be a useful piece of information.)

Conversely, the 2010 Texans ranked No. 1 in adjusted line yards on runs up the middle, but they had one of the lowest percentages in the league of middle runs. For comparison here is the same set of rankings for us over the same time period [spanning four head coaches and a host of offensive coordinators]:

LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MID/GUARD RIGHT TACKLE RIGHT END
Team Rank Rank Rank Rank Rank
2014 DEN 24 31 4 12 18
2013 DEN 6 12 13 20 7
2012 DEN 23 18 10 22 6
2011 DEN 26 21 15 2 5
2010 DEN 24 24 23 28 24
2009 DEN 7 30 8 28 2
2008 DEN 1 6 4 11 2
2007 DEN 8 9 25 25 6
2006 DEN 31 24 7 7 21

I didn't realize how badly we sucked last season running behind Ryan Clady after 2008. I was also surprised at how well we did last year running up the middle. With a new center and LG this year, it will be interesting to see if we have the same level of success running up the middle.

We know that Kubiak/Dennison/Barone know how to coach up the ZBS with our OL, but there is a lot that our offensive line will have to prove.