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What is the 'Kubiak offense'?

Gary Kubiak has twelve seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He also has a large influence on the play selection as head coach. What does the "Kubiak" offense look like? Read on to find a historical analysis of the Kubiak offense and get an idea of what our "true" Kubiak offense might do next season.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

I am going to start with a simple premise: Despite being the head coach and not the offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak has a lot of control over the offense.

If you disagree with this premise stop reading now. Gary Kubiak had a lot of control over the offense while he was head coach in the Houston and he will continue to have a lot of control over the offense while he is our head coach in Denver. I guess I should also call the offense the "Kubiak-Shanahan" offense because the style was honed while Gary was the OC for the Denver Broncos between 1995 and 2005, but for simplicity I am going to shorten that to Kubiak offense for the article.

On the most basic level offenses only have two choices on each play: run or pass, so viewing offensive play selection through that binary lens we see this for the Kubiak offense:

Run/Pass Split in the Kubiak Offense
Year Team Rushing att Passing att Run%
1995 Denver 440 594 43%
1996 Denver 525 536 49%
1997 Denver 520 513 50%
1998 Denver 525 491 52%
1999 Denver 465 554 46%
2000 Denver 516 569 48%
2001 Denver 481 511 48%
2002 Denver 457 554 45%
2003 Denver 543 479 53%
2004 Denver 534 521 51%
2005 Denver 542 465 54%
2006 Houston 431 481 47%
2007 Houston 417 529 44%
2008 Houston 432 555 44%
2009 Houston 425 593 42%
2010 Houston 423 574 42%
2011 Houston 546 467 54%
2012 Houston 508 554 48%
2013 Houston 414 633 40%
2014 Baltimore 448 554 45%
2015 Denver 411 606 40%
Average 476 540 47%

In 21 seasons as either the OC or the HC, the Kubiak offense has only had 6 seasons where it ran the ball more than it passed the ball. While there is a slight correlation between winning% and run%, correlation is not causation, so don't fall into that trap. The Kubiak offense is generally thought of as a "running offense", but that is only a partially correct characterization. A better statement is that the Kubiak offense runs to set up the pass. If the running game is working, then the whole offense is working (generally).  Since the run is used to set up the pass, let's now look at who the passes were thrown to by position group (% of targets)

Target% by Position Group
Year Team % of targets to WR % of targets to RB % of targets to TE % of targets to FB
1995 Denver 48% 22% 20% 10%
1996 Denver 47% 12% 31% 10%
1997 Denver 54% 13% 28% 4%
1998 Denver 57% 10% 26% 6%
1999 Denver 55% 10% 27% 8%
2000 Denver 61% 8% 25% 6%
2001 Denver 55% 10% 28% 7%
2002 Denver 57% 14% 22% 7%
2003 Denver 52% 17% 25% 4%
2004 Denver 59% 14% 20% 6%
2005 Denver 52% 19% 21% 7%
2006 Houston 58% 18% 18% 7%
2007 Houston 57% 13% 21% 8%
2008 Houston 61% 14% 22% 3%
2009 Houston 50% 17% 26% 7%
2010 Houston 56% 18% 22% 5%
2011 Houston 44% 21% 28% 7%
2012 Houston 52% 14% 19% 15%
2013 Houston 56% 17% 25% 2%
2014 Baltimore 55% 15% 22% 5%
2015 Denver 67% 12% 17% 4%
AVERAGE 55% 15% 23% 7%

The Kubiak offense, like the rest of the NFL targets the majority of throws to wide receivers. On average that means five out of nine targets go to WRs. I'll break the WRs down even further later on. Tight ends get about one of every four targets while RBs get about one out of every seven and FBs get one out of every fourteen. The high for WR target% happened last year when Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler combined to target WRs on 67% of all throws. Contrast that with the 2011 Texans who only aimed 44% of their targets at WRs. The high for RB target% happened in 1995 when the Broncos were throwing to Terrell Davis, Glyn Milburn, Rod Bernstine and Reggie Rivers a combined 125 times out of 440 attempts. On the other end of the spectrum, the 2000 Broncos only throw the ball at RBs 8% of the time (44 out of 551 targets). There was only one year, 2012, where the FB was targeted more than the RB. The two FBs for the Texans that year, James Casey and Garrett Graham, were both listed as FB/TE (more of that later).

The high for TE target% was in 1996 when the Broncos had three TEs, Shannon Sharpe, Dwayne Carswell and Byron Chamberlain, who combined for 159 of 525 targets. On the other end of the spectrum, the 2015 Broncos only targeted TEs 17% of the time - about half of the frequency of the 1996 Broncos.

As mentioned earlier, fullbacks only get one out of every fourteen targets on average in the Kubiak offense. Now, the leads to the question of "who is listed as a FB?". Garrett Graham, formerly of the Houston Texans, was listed as a TE some years, a FB in other years and a TE/FB in one year. My data is sourced from pro-football-reference.com and they listed Virgil Green as a FB/TE last season and Juwan Thompson as a FB (not a running back). Similarly, Kyle Johnson, Detron Smith and James Casey all moved across position groups (RB, FB, TE, TE/FB = FB/TE) so it can be hard to separate the TE and the FB or the FB and the RB targets. That being said passes at the FB are generally designed to keep the defense honest and are not a large part of the Kubiak offense, but don't tell that to Andy Janovich.

The average number of total targets in the Kubiak offense is 525 (on average there are 15 throw-aways per year - no receiver is targeted on a throw-away). So if we have 525 targets next season and we have an "average year" for a Kubiak offense we will have this breakdown in terms of targets by position group

WRs - 289 targets

RBs - 79 targets

TEs - 120 targets

FBs - 37 targets

This begs the question of how many of those WR targets go to the top two WRs? or better stated, how often are we going to be throwing the ball to/at a WR not named Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas?

Catches by WR3 in the Kubiak Offense
Year Catches First Last
1995 33 Mike Pritchard
1996 16 Rod Smith
1997 19 Willie Green
1998 16 Willie Green
1999 9 Andre Cooper
2000 3 Robert Brooks
2001 11 Scottie Montgomery
2002 35 Ashley Lelie
2003 19 Eddie MacCaffery
2004 31 Darius Watts
2005 21 Charlie Adams
2006 17 Kevin Walter
2007 33 Andre Davis
2008 19 David Anderson
2009 27 Jacoby Jones
2010 51 Jacoby Jones
2011 31 Jacoby Jones
2012 10 KeShawn Martin
2013 22 KeShawn Martin
2014 24 Marlon Brown
2015 22 Jordan Norwood

There are two ways to approach this question. The first approach is shown in the table above where we see how many catches WR3 got in the Kubiak offense by year. Some years WR3 is big contributor (2010) while other years he is a complete afterthought (2000). One average WR3 gets 21 catches in the Kubiak offense.

So let's approach this from another angle. What is the split in WR targets between WR1-2 and WR3-6 (or 5 or 7 depending upon how many WRs were active that year)?

Further Depth on the WR Target Split
Year Team %targets to WR1-2 %targets to WR3-6
1995 Denver 31% 16%
1996 Denver 36% 11%
1997 Denver 44% 10%
1998 Denver 50% 7%
1999 Denver 49% 5%
2000 Denver 58% 2%
2001 Denver 40% 14%
2002 Denver 46% 11%
2003 Denver 42% 9%
2004 Denver 47% 12%
2005 Denver 47% 5%
2006 Houston 52% 6%
2007 Houston 37% 20%
2008 Houston 49% 11%
2009 Houston 41% 9%
2010 Houston 39% 17%
2011 Houston 27% 17%
2012 Houston 42% 10%
2013 Houston 44% 12%
2014 Baltimore 42% 13%
2015 Denver 52% 15%
AVERAGE 44% 11%

We see that on average the top two WRs get 44% of all targets in the Kubiak offense with the rest of the WR group getting one target for every four that the top two get. Meaning that if we are on the average He-Manuel and DT will get targeted 231 times next season while the rest of the WR group gets targeted 58 times. Assuming we keep five WRs (and we may only keep four) that's not many targets to share between the other two or three WRs. There have been some years, such as 2007 where WR3-6 have gotten a high number of targets, but generally they are only targeted slightly more often than the FB.

2015 Broncos Targets
Player 2015 Targets
Demaryius Thomas 177
Emmanuel Sanders 136
Owen Daniels 77
C.J. Anderson 36
Ronnie Hillman 35
Jordan Norwood 32
Vernon Davis 28
Bennie Fowler 25
Andre Caldwell 22
Virgil Green 15
Cody Latimer 11
Juwan Thompson 9

Having read this, who do you think will see the biggest increase in their total number of targets, keeping in mind that Daniels, Davis and Caldwell are no longer on the Broncos and we have three players who should also be getting targets who didn't play in the NFL last season - Jeff Heuerman, Davontae Booker and Andy Jonavich. I'll include Jordan Taylor on the survey for those of you who are drinking the Sunshine Kool-aid.