Gary Kubiak is a local legend–and after briefly stepping away from football for health reasons–the 57-year old quarterback guru will return as offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, a role that he previously served in from 1995-2005.
Some question whether bringing back Kubiak in an official role is truly the best thing for the offense, especially considering the Broncos were not exactly lighting up the scoreboard in his final season as head coach (2016). During the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons, Kubiak’s offenses ranked 16th and 27th, respectively, in total points.
However, after hiring Vic Fangio as head coach, it is clear that Broncos general manager John Elway is turning to experience, while the rest of the NFL is trying to find the next Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan. As NFL insider Ben Allbright put it, the Broncos zigged when everyone else zagged.
Even more important to the equation, the Broncos are pretty much locked in with Case Keenum as the team’s starting quarterback in 2019, so bringing in Kubiak, the man that developed him in Houston, is a strategic move by Elway.
The reality is Denver is likely not in position to land the QB of the future in this year’s NFL Draft and the free agent options are less than desirable, so Elway’s best option was turning to a familiar face to run his offense.
Other than Keenum’s hot streak in Minnesota in 2017 when he had a QBR of 74.3, completed a career-high 67.6 percent of his passes and led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, some of his best numbers were under Kubiak in Houston in 2013. In his eight starts during the 2013 season, Keenum posted his second-highest QBR ever at 48.3 and also averaged 7.0 yards per attempt, rivaling the 7.4 he averaged in Minnesota.
Despite having basically zero NFL experience, much of Keenum’s early success came under Kubiak, so the Broncos are hoping to replicate some of that success in 2019. The big questions will be whether or not Kubiak can modernize his system enough to confuse opposing defenses, whom will have more than 20 years of film to review; and whether Keenum is even talented enough to lead Denver on a playoff run in the first place.
Compared to the other quarterbacks in the AFC West, Keenum’s most successful seasons would be considered pedestrian. So, even if Kubiak is able to use play-action more effectively and increase Keenum’s potential, the ceiling just may not be very high.
That being said, if Keenum can increase his completion percentage from 62.3 to around 65.0 and decrease his total amount of turnovers, the Broncos may be able to do enough on the offensive end to get by. When the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, the team identity was definitely defense, but the quarterback duo of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler were able to limit turnovers and make big plays when the season was on the line.
Keenum obviously does not even belong in the same sentence as the the Sheriff, but if Fangio is able to replicate the success he had with Chicago’s defense in the Mile High City, Kubiak may be able to squeeze just enough out of the offense for Denver to make a run at the playoffs in 2019.
The Broncos have a young foundation to build around with Phillip Lindsay in the backfield and multiple up-and-coming wide receivers on the outside. The key to success will be Keenum’s play under center and if Kubiak can bring the best out of the 30-year old QB in 2019.