Tag Archive | "gary kubiak"

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Denver submits request to interview Kubiak for head coach

Posted on 15 January 2015 by Luke Jones

To no one’s surprise the Denver Broncos have formally asked for permission to interview Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak for their head coaching vacancy.

Now we wait to see if Kubiak accepts. The 53-year-old spent 20 years in the Broncos organization as a player and assistant coach and remains close with general manager John Elway, whom he backed up at quarterback for nine years.

Per NFL Network, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was expected to discuss Kubiak’s plans on Thursday morning, but the organization will not stand in his way if he wants to meet with the Broncos. Kubiak issued a statement through the Ravens Sunday night that he would not pursue any head coaching positions, but that stance may have changed once the Broncos and former head coach John Fox officially parted ways on Monday.

“If a coach gets a chance to be a head coach in this league, you’ve got to be happy for him,” Harbaugh said on Tuesday. “I don’t know if anything else will come up — I haven’t heard of anything along those lines — but if something comes up, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

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Harbaugh unaware of any change to Kubiak’s plans to stay with Ravens

Posted on 13 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even if the Denver Broncos are targeting Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as their next head coach, John Harbaugh gave no indication Tuesday afternoon that it would happen.

The Ravens head coach said he’s heard nothing from Kubiak that indicates he has changed his mind about the commitment he made to remain as offensive coordinator Sunday night, but Harbaugh didn’t dismiss the possibility of it happening. Kubiak spent nine years as the backup quarterback in Denver in addition to 11 years as an assistant coach under former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.

“I haven’t sat down with Gary and interrogated him about it,” said Harbaugh as he smiled. “Maybe I should. That might be my next move. Out of respect, he’s told me he’s planning on being here. Denver hasn’t reached out in any way at this time. That’s not to say it couldn’t change at some point in time. I just think if that happens, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“I’m not really one to put anybody on the spot like that. I want to be respectful. I’m planning on Gary being back, so if that changes, then we’ll deal with it if it comes up. But I don’t anticipate that changing at this time.”

Hall of Fame quarterback and Broncos general manager John Elway remains close friends with Kubiak and hasn’t shot down the possibility of him being a candidate to replace head coach John Fox, who parted ways with the Broncos on Monday. For now, Kubiak remains the Ravens offensive coordinator despite an ESPN report indicating Denver will request permission to interview him.

In their first season with Kubiak running the offense, the Ravens set franchise records in points scored and total yards and finished 12th in the NFL in total offense and eighth in points per game. A running game that ranked last in the NFL in yards per carry in 2013 improved to eighth in yards per game this season.

Kubiak’s announcement on Sunday squashed reported interest from Chicago, the New York Jets, and San Francisco, but the Denver position could be viewed as a dream job that could prompt the 53-year-old to change his mind.

“As far as I know, nothing’s changed,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not aware of any change of anything that’s taken place between then and now. Of course, I’m as pleased as heck to hear that [initial announcement] and talk to Gary about that leading up to that and then that day. I told him that’s music to my ears. He’s very happy here; his family’s happy here. I think all the coaches really feel good about where they’re at right now. As far as I know, nothing’s changed along those lines.”

Harbaugh did confirm that secondary coach and assistant head coach Steve Spagnuolo will interview for the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator position on Wednesday. The Ravens finished 23rd in pass defense after dealing with a rash of injuries that included top cornerback Jimmy Smith and No. 3 corner Asa Jackson.

Spagnuolo is no stranger to Tom Coughlin and the Giants after serving as their defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008 before he became the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

“Steve’s a great coach and has done a great job with the guys throughout the course of the season,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, a tremendously experienced coach. He’s been a head coach, been a coordinator, and that’s not something that we would want to hold him back from as an opportunity. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that, but that’s something that he deserves an opportunity to look at.”

Though a change in Kubiak’s status could create a ripple of change with quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani in particular, Harbaugh is not anticipating any other shakeups to his coaching staff at this time.

The Ravens endured plenty of change last offseason with the departures of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, tight ends coach Wade Harman, offensive line coach Andy Mueller, and secondary coach Teryl Austin. Harbaugh is hoping for more continuity this winter as the Ravens try to build on their 2014 return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

“I sure hope so. I’m recruiting those guys every day,” Harbaugh said. “But like I said, guys like being here. If a coach gets a chance to be a head coach in this league, you’ve got to be happy for him. I don’t know if anything else will come up — I haven’t heard of anything along those lines — but if something comes up, we’ll just have to deal with it.”

 

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Would Kubiak change his mind for Denver job?

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than 24 hours after Gary Kubiak announced he would return to the Ravens for the 2015 season, questions are again being asked about his future in Baltimore.

As soon as the Denver Broncos revealed they were parting ways with head coach John Fox on Monday, the Baltimore offensive coordinator’s name was being mentioned as an intriguing candidate along with former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who still resides in Denver. Of course, Kubiak has deep ties to the organization after spending nine years as the backup quarterback to John Elway and 11 years as an assistant coach under Shanahan.

With Elway now the general manager of the Broncos and making the surprising change at head coach, one wonders if he’d be interested in having his close friend take over in Denver. Kubiak reiterated his fondness for Baltimore in taking his name out of the running for other head coaching gigs Sunday night, but no one could really blame the 53-year-old for viewing the Broncos as a dream job for which he’d at least consider changing his mind.

Even one of Kubiak’s current players, wide receiver Torrey Smith, offered a cryptic response to the news of Fox being out in Denver:

There were rumors over the weekend that Fox could be dismissed if the Broncos fell to Indianapolis, so you would assume Kubiak had at least some inkling of the Denver job becoming open. With the former Houston Texans head coach regarded by the Ravens as a man of great integrity and character, the initial expectation is that Kubiak will remain as the team’s offensive coordinator.

The future of Peyton Manning is a hot topic in Denver, so it will be fascinating to see how he factors into the equation for any potential candidate for the head job.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will meet with the media at 2 p.m. Tuesday and will undoubtedly be asked about the updated status of his offensive coordinator.

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Post game thoughts – Ravens vs Patriots

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Had a great show Sunday morning, with relative predictable reaction by the Baltimore Ravens’ fan base. The scale was truly A – Z, from fans who were extremely upset, to moderately happy. The biggest issue that came up time and again was the decision that Joe Flacco made to throw the ball deep to Torrey Smith with just under 2 minutes left in the game.

Lots of Ravens fans second guessed that decision, and they wanted Flacco to continue to patiently work the ball downfield. In fact, on that play he had a wide open Marlon Brown streaking across the middle of the field.

It is my opinion that Flacco did in fact make the right call. The Patriots were in a single high safety formation, and Flacco knew that Torrey Smith was singled up by the DB on the left sideline. Smith got a couple of steps on his man, but the ball was under thrown and the safety came over and made a great play. It’s a simple as that. You take points when you can get them, and then you rely on your defense to make a stop, and win the game for you. Had the Ravens scored on that play, there’s no question it would have left the Patriots plenty of time to go down field and either tie the game with a field goal, or win it with a touchdown.

But first things first. I’ve seen too many games where offenses try to methodically go downfield in an attempt to score with seconds left, in order to leave the opposing offense with no time to move the ball. I’ve also seen turnovers happen in the form of fumbles and interceptions, mishandled handoffs and snaps. The ball is oblong, pointy, and bounces funny.  Oftentimes anything and everything that can go wrong…does. That is precisely why you take the points when you can get them.

The Ravens play aggressive football, and they have an aggressive nature about them. They are by and large well coached and relatively disciplined. No one complained when they went for it on 4th and 6th. When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. That’s how this team rolls, and that philosophy has played a big part as to why under John Harbaugh’s tenure, they’ve been in the playoffs 6 times in the past 7 years.

Speaking of Flacco, for 58 minutes he played a great game. He had two critical interceptions, but he also threw for 4 touchdowns. He should have had 5, but one of his throws bounced off of the hands of Owen Daniels. That was a huge play in and of itself, as it did factor in to the outcome. Flacco set a new NFL record with two touchdowns in eight straight postseason games, passing Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Drew Brees. That’s pretty good company if you ask me. The other question is this: if not Flacco – Ravens fans – then who? He didn’t let up a two touchdown lead, twice in the game. That was on the defense. Scoring 31 points in the NFL should be good enough for a win on any given Sunday. That was on the Ravens’ defense and their patched up secondary. Rob Gronkowski, some trickery, and Patriots’ half time adjustments were enough to pull out a win on their home turf.

There was criticism of Torrey Smith on the play that Flacco threw the pick on. Some fans felt that he didn’t do enough to break up the play. I’ve looked at the replays and he never had a chance to make a play on the ball. The safety was in good position, and got there at the ball’s high point. Smith is good, solid football player, but he doesn’t have the instincts to go up there and fight for the ball. It was not a lack of effort, and I’m not even sure that he saw the safety until the last second, so he didn’t have much time to react. I hope that he and the Ravens can come to a contractual agreement, as I believe he is a solid #2 receiver in this league, and adds value to the team.

Jacoby Jones looked tentative in the last two games, particularly on kickoff returns. He was not hitting the lanes hard, and maybe was putting too much emphasis on protecting the ball. He slipped on the opening kickoff versus the Steelers, and did not look good after that. I was hoping he would unleash himself in the manner that he did two years ago in the playoffs, but he was nowhere the difference maker this post season that he was then. I was disappointed with his performance, as I expected more.

The personal foul calls were troublesome, particularly on Torrey Smith. Coach Harbaugh should have also used a time out versus running on the field to get the refs’ attention. Not to mention he was wrong about the “deceptive practices” he alleged Bill Belichick was using. I under stand coach was frustrated after the bitter loss, but watching his presser brought to mind the phrase “never blame, complain or explain. I think Harbaugh is a solid coach, but hey coach, you got beat. Simple as that. Your defense blew a two TD lead – twice! Daniels didn’t come up with a catch – that Pitta would have probably held on to – in the end zone. Sending out 4 offensive linemen is nothing new. Alabama coach Nick Saban used it this season in overtime, in a 20-13 victory over LSU. I don’t recall LSU coach Les Miles complaining about the tactic at his press conference.

Bottom line is that the Ravens should head in to the off season with their heads held high. They battled through major off field distractions, 19 players on injured reserve, a late season suspension to a key player and still scratched and clawed their way to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. They went toe to toe with a team that features a certain Hall of Fame first ballot quarterback and head coach, and gave them all that they could handle on their home turf.

Looks like offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is coming back, and with a strong draft and some health, the Ravens are poised to make a deep run in to the playoffs next season for sure. Hopefully they’ll win enough regular season games to get some home games in the playoffs, which will make the road to where they’re ultimately trying to get to a bit easier.

 

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Kubiak staying put as Ravens offensive coordinator

Posted on 11 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Just over 24 hours following their playoff loss to the New England Patriots, the Ravens received news that helped ease the sting on Sunday night with the announcement that Gary Kubiak will remain as offensive coordinator.

Despite reportedly receiving interest from the Chicago Bears, the New York Jets, and the San Francisco 49ers for their head coaching vacancies, the former Houston Texans head coach will return to Baltimore for the 2015 season. Under Kubiak, the Ravens set single-season franchise bests for points scored and total yards in the regular season.

“It is flattering and humbling to be invited to interview for a number of NFL head coaching positions, and I greatly appreciate these opportunities,” Kubiak said in a statement released by the team. “But I have decided to stay with the Ravens. This is a special organization and we, like [coach John Harbaugh] says, are building something great. I want to be a part of that and contribute in whatever ways I can.”

Kubiak’s return is certainly good news for quarterback Joe Flacco, who posted career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27) while posting his highest passer rating (91.0) since the 2010 season. Flacco had a good relationship with quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison, who was Kubiak’s offensive coordinator in Houston and would have likely left with him had he taken another head coaching position.

Despite plenty of rumors about his future, Kubiak repeatedly said late in the season that his sole focus was with the Ravens as they made their push for a sixth playoff appearance in the last seven years.

“I’ve been through it and I had my turn, and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing,” Kubiak said on Dec. 31. “I’ve told you all that over and over again. I don’t think about what’s next.”

As players cleaned out their lockers in Owings Mills on Sunday afternoon, many expressed hope that the offensive coordinator would remain with the Ravens. Under Kubiak, Baltimore finished eighth in the NFL in points scored and 12th in yards per game while the running game ranked eighth despite a disastrous 2013 campaign in which the Ravens finished last in the league in yards per carry.

The news figures to only help in retaining free agents such as running back Justin Forsett, tight end Owen Daniels, and wide receiver Torrey Smith. And while working with Flacco and a strong offensive line, Kubiak is unlikely to see his head coaching stock drop dramatically if he wants to pursue head jobs next offseason.

“It’s always tough when you get comfortable with a guy like that,” Smith said hours before the announcement was made. “He’s a players’ coach — I will tell you that much. He’s a guy that you want to play for, so if he gets another head coaching job, you’re not surprised at it.”

 

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Ravens facing big challenge in Patriots secondary this time around

Posted on 07 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and New England Patriots have uttered similar thoughts throughout the week about Saturday’s divisional playoff meeting in Foxborough.

As the rest of the world focuses on their three previous postseason encounters at Gillette Stadium, coaches and players from each side put little stock in what happened in the past. It’s difficult to argue the point from the Ravens’ side as just 19 players on the current 53-man roster were with the organization when they topped New England in the AFC Championship to go to the Super Bowl two years ago.

The biggest on-field difference between these teams may lie in the Patriots’ secondary, a unit that was their Achilles heel in recent years. When the Ravens met them in consecutive conference championship games, the Patriots ranked 31st in pass defense in 2011 and 29th in 2012, but the unit improved to 17th in the NFL this season because of two key offseason additions at cornerback.

The arrivals of six-time Pro Bowl selection Darrelle Revis and the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner have transformed one of the Patriots’ biggest positional weaknesses into a strength, especially as the season has progressed. In addition to the veteran free-agent signings, 2013 third-round pick Logan Ryan has emerged as a solid option at the nickel in his second year.

“All three of those guys give them the ability to play man coverage more than they ever have before,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They play a lot of single-high [safety]. They have a lot of people down in the box to stop the run. They’ll press you. They’ll play combinations where they double a certain player, take him out of the game. They can do that because they have corners that can single people up.”

The combination presents a problem for the Ravens, who have traditionally struggled against press coverage. Veteran Steve Smith certainly won’t shy away from physical play, but it’s fair to wonder if the 35-year-old has enough speed at this stage of the season to take advantage of any upper hand he can gain when the 5-foot-11 Revis tries to press him at the line of scrimmage.

After only one year in Tampa Bay that saw the Buccaneers wasting his talents in zone coverage, the 29-year-old Revis — two years removed from a serious knee injury suffered in his final season with the New York Jets — has retaken his place as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. And he’ll likely be asked to take the veteran Smith out of the game on Saturday.

“Is Revis still Revis? I think his ID and his social security number and those things [still say] ‘Revis,'” said Steve Smith as he smiled. “Revis can play. He’s a great corner. He’s a corner that you have to prepare for; you have to watch film. You can’t just walk in there thinking [it will be easy]. He’s a professional, and you have to approach it with a professional mindset.

“I have to be patient and understand he’s going to make his plays. That’s it. Be patient. It’s a long game. A lot of things happen.”

On the opposite side of the field, Browner will likely match up against Torrey Smith, who has improved against press coverage since his rookie season but generally doesn’t play with much physicality. What Browner may lack in speed he makes up for with a massive frame used to try to knock receivers off their spot.

It will present an interesting matchup as Torrey Smith has repeatedly drawn penalties from the opposition this season while Browner was flagged 15 times to lead the Patriots despite playing in only nine games during the regular season. The University of Maryland product could be in line for a big day if he can win the first couple steps of his routes, but New England will likely be inclined to shade safety help his way while entrusting Revis to handle Steve Smith.

Now in his fourth year, Torrey Smith hopes his experiences playing against both Revis and Browner as a rookie will pay dividends despite being held without a catch on three total targets matched up against them in games against the Jets and Seattle Seahawks in 2011.

“I just think they’re going to try to have a bigger body on me [and] try to be a little physical at the line,” Torrey Smith said. “I’ll check [Browner] out a little more, but I’ve played against both of them. I was a young pup, but I’ve played against them both and I’ve gotten a lot better since then. I’ll be ready for it. It was definitely different seeing Revis walk out on me as a rookie, but that’s just pretty cool.”

How can the Ravens combat the Patriots cornerbacks’ physical play?

Bunch formations, motion, and pick plays can be used to offset press coverage, but the Ravens won’t shy away from using double-moves as well as an improved play-action passing game to gain separation.

However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak warned that the Ravens can’t reinvent the wheel in an effort to account for tough press coverage. And Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are also masters of changing up strategies and giving opponents different looks than they anticipated after a full week of preparation.

“We have to go do what we do. We can’t sit here and assume, ‘Well, this guy is going to play that guy,'” Kubiak said. “We can’t do that. We have to go out and run the things we run and do them well. But that’s a strength of their defense, and if we’re going to find a way to get it done, we’re going to have to beat as good of a man coverage as there is in football, and we understand that.”

As the Ravens have come to expect with so much postseason success over the last seven years, quarterback Joe Flacco will be the biggest factor in beating the Patriots secondary and he won’t be afraid to test Revis if the opportunities are there.

It was an aggressive approach that led to an impressive 30-17 victory over Pittsburgh last Saturday, and Flacco says the Ravens could run into trouble if they try to deviate too much from what they do best.

“As a quarterback, you have to go out there and just go through your reads. If he’s open, throw it to him; if he’s not, don’t,” Flacco said. “We’re going to have to make contested catches, contested throws — all those things. But I know in the past when we’ve played against some guys and you’ve tried to avoid him or done things game plan-wise to get matchups in other places, it usually just takes your attention away from what you should be doing.

“I think that has a bigger effect than sometimes the actual guy can.”

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Jets reportedly request interview with Ravens coordinator Kubiak

Posted on 30 December 2014 by Luke Jones

After leading the Ravens to their best offensive season in franchise history, first-year coordinator Gary Kubiak has already drawn interest from the New York Jets for their head coaching position.

The Jets fired head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik on Monday and have requested to interview Kubiak, according to an ESPN report. New York also seeked interviews with Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Seattle assistant head coach Tom Cable, San Diego offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The former Houston Texans head coach guided the Ravens to single-season franchise records in points scored (409) and total yards (5,838). Baltimore finished eighth in points scored and 12th in total yards during the 2014 regular season.

In eight years as Houston’s head coach, Kubiak accumulated a 61-64 record and guided the Texans to two AFC South titles.

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Control of playoff path slips away along with Ravens’ late-season mettle

Posted on 21 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There are tough losses and then there’s that rare defeat that forces you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about a football team.

The Ravens experienced the latter Sunday in falling to the Houston Texans in a 25-13 final with numbers that don’t do justice to how miserable the performance was. Baltimore has experienced bigger margins of defeat in the John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco era, but most haven’t come in a spot in which the Ravens had so much to lose.

Sunday was easily the worst offensive performance of the season as the Ravens were held to an anemic 64 yards through the first three quarters. From Flacco and the running game to the offensive line and the wide receivers, no part of the performance was remotely acceptable, including a coaching staff that failed to account for the Texans’ pass rush throughout the day or to find answers to get the all-important running game on track.

For the second straight year, the Ravens entered Week 16 in complete control of their path to the playoffs, needing two wins to guarantee a trip to the postseason. And just like last year’s home defeat to New England in the penultimate game of the regular season, the Ravens were dominated while watching that playoff power slip through their fingers.

Losing big at home to the Patriots last season was bad enough, but at least it came against a team regarded as one of the NFL’s best. On Sunday, the Ravens fell on the road to a team sporting a .500 record and starting a fourth-string quarterback who was signed off another team’s practice squad earlier in the week.

Of course, Sunday’s defeat had very little to do with Texans quarterback Case Keenum and everything to do with a Houston defense that overwhelmed Flacco and the offense. The Texans deserve plenty of credit and have the best defensive player on the planet in J.J. Watt, but the Ravens offense coming up so small with the stakes so high negates much of the progress made in Gary Kubiak’s first year as coordinator.

It reeked of the ineptitude of last year.

As much scrutiny as the Ravens defense has drawn over a secondary ravaged by injuries, Dean Pees’ unit played admirably in limiting the Texans to just one touchdown in seven trips inside the red zone. You could have almost stomached a defeat in which Texans receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins kept running free and Keenum caught lightning in a bottle, but the Baltimore defense was acceptable on Sunday.

The Ravens can still make the playoffs with a win over Cleveland next Sunday and either two losses by Cincinnati or a San Diego loss at Kansas City, but their loss on Sunday makes you wonder if they’ve lost the late-season mettle made famous in Harbaugh’s first five years at the helm. Maybe it’s because of certain talent deficiencies, something missing in their current DNA, or both, but the Ravens just didn’t lose games like Sunday’s in Harbaugh’s first five seasons.

After 15 games and just two wins over teams currently holding a .500 record, the 9-6 Ravens just might not be all that good. Their biggest critics have repeatedly pointed out how they’ve benefited from playing the woeful NFC South as Baltimore holds a 5-6 record against the rest of the league. Beating bad teams is well and good, but you have to rise to the occasion to put yourself in position to do something special by beating quality opponents.

Are the Ravens good enough to make the playoffs in 2014? Sure, as long as they win next week and receive some outside help from other less-than-stellar talent in the AFC. Plenty of teams have made the playoffs without looking like they “deserve” it.

But it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens going on any kind of a significant run in January, especially with the offense regressing over the last few weeks and a defense with band-aids upon band-aids in the secondary. The uncertainty after injuries to offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner certainly won’t help, either.

Sunday brought reality into a nightmarish focus.

The Ravens not only lost control of their path to the postseason, but their proven late-season mettle appeared to slip away with it.

They can begin trying to find it again next week, but there’s no guarantee the ride will continue beyond that.

And they have no one to blame but themselves.

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Sunday represents a homecoming for a number of players and coaches as the Ravens travel to Houston to take on the Texans.

From offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and assistants Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani to tight end Owen Daniels, running back Justin Forsett, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, plenty of Ravens will be returning to a place they called home for a number of years, but there’s little time for sentimentality when you’re in the playoff race. At 9-5, Baltimore can clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 with a win and losses by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh or a win over the Texans coupled with defeats by both San Diego and Kansas City.

On the surface, the Ravens should feel very confident as the Texans are turning to their fourth quarterback of the season — expected to be the newly-signed Case Keenum — but Houston still possesses the best defensive player on the planet in J.J. Watt and a powerful running game that ranks fourth in the NFL. The 7-7 Texans are a long shot to sneak into the playoffs at this point, but they’d like nothing more than to spoil Baltimore’s playoff chances on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Texans meet for the seventh time in regular-season history with the Ravens holding a 6-1 edge, which doesn’t include their 20-13 win over Houston in the 2011 postseason. Baltimore is 3-1 against Houston at NRG Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens hope to clinch a playoff spot in Week 16 …

1. Baltimore will advance its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 25 games, but Arian Foster will have a season-high total against the Ravens defense. No opposing running back has even gotten close to the century mark this season as Ahmad Bradshaw of Indianapolis has the highest total of the year against the Ravens with just 68 in Week 5. However, Foster will represent the greatest test the Ravens have seen since Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for Adderall use. Both defenses will be familiar with the opposing rushing attack as the Ravens and Texans both use the zone stretch, but Houston will be a bit too predictable relying on the run due to the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Foster will rush for more yards against the Ravens than any back this season, but his total will remain south of 100 yards.

2. Daniels will catch a touchdown and have his best game of the season against his former team. The longtime Texans tight end having a strong day against his former team would be a feel-good story, but quarterback Joe Flacco went out of his way earlier in the week to say Daniels needs to be more involved in the offense. Against Jacksonville, Daniels was targeted nine times — the most he’s been thrown to since Week 9 — and caught four passes for 62 yards and his first touchdown since Week 7. The Ravens’ 17th-ranked red-zone attack remains a weakness of a strong offensive attack, but the reemergence of Daniels would be a major factor in a potential trip to the playoffs. His familiarity with the Texans’ defensive personnel will help him produce a season-high in yards, besting the 70 he had against the Colts in Week 5.

3. Watt will collect a sack and bat down a pass, but the Ravens will throw away from him and run plenty of counters to try to minimize his impact. The Texans defensive end might go down as the most disruptive defensive force the NFL has seen since Lawrence Taylor, but the Ravens can only focus on minimizing his impact as much as possible on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will move Watt all over the defensive line, so the key is identifying where he lines up and running the play away from him. Flacco will throw to the opposite side of where Watt lines up to try to minimize his ability to use his 6-foot-5 frame to disrupt passing lanes, but running the counter is effective in slowing his motor as well as the rest of the Houston pass rush. Watt will see double-teams, chip blocks, and max protect as well, but play selection will be just as important.

4. Daryl Smith will pick up his second interception of the year to continue his strong finish to the season. A slow start and the emergence of rookie C.J. Mosley have led many to overlook how well the veteran linebacker has played in the second half of the season. An effective blitzer and still the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage, Smith could be a key factor in trying to confuse Keenum, who proved to be an aggressive passer who couldn’t handle a pass rush in eight games for the Texans last season. It’s obvious the Baltimore defense will try to pressure the young quarterback, but Smith could prove key by showing blitz up the middle before dropping into pass coverage. The secondary will have its hands full with wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins — if the latter plays — but Smith will come away with a pick with Keenum facing a heavy rush.

5. Baltimore’s advantage at the quarterback position will be the ultimate difference in a tight 23-16 win for the Ravens. Last week’s struggles against the Jaguars should remind everyone that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and the Texans remained competitive in Indianapolis last week despite veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick going down with a broken leg. Bill O’Brien’s team has talent on both sides of the ball, but it’s very difficult imagining John Harbaugh and the Ravens losing to a fourth-string quarterback under these critical circumstances. Flacco will need to stand tall against a formidable pass rush, but he’s played very well since the bye week, a trend that will continue against a mediocre secondary. It will be a tight game in Houston, but the Ravens will get some revenge for Kubiak and find a way to move to 10-5 on the season.

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With past and future hot topics, Kubiak focused on present with Ravens

Posted on 18 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak quipped that he has his hands too full trying to slow All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt this Sunday to think about anything else, but you can only downplay the emotions of going home so much.

Not only is the 53-year-old assistant returning to Houston to face a Texans team he coached for eight years, but it’s the city in which Kubiak was born and raised, growing up five miles from the historic Astrodome and present-day NRG Stadium. And it’s where he feels he didn’t live up to expectations as the head coach when he was fired in early December of what amounted to a 2-14 season for the Texans a year ago.

Kubiak finished 61-64 in Houston, but his firing in 2013 came after consecutive AFC South division titles in 2011 and 2012, the only playoff appearances in the 13-year history of the franchise.

“I failed with that football team, so it’s very difficult and I understand the business and how it works,” said Kubiak, who spoke highly of the organization and Texans owner Bob McNair for giving him his first opportunity to be an NFL head coach. “But it’s funny how things work out, too. For me to have an opportunity with this organization, I’m just so appreciative of that and getting back to work. That’s the best medicine for a football coach.”

The stakes of Sunday’s game illustrate Kubiak’s focus on the present amidst questions about his past in Houston and his potential future as a head coaching candidate this offseason. The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh or a victory over Houston coupled with losses by Kansas City and San Diego in Week 16.

Of course, Kubiak isn’t alone in returning to Houston as tight end Owen Daniels began his NFL career with the Texans in 2006, Kubiak’s first year as the head coach, and running back Justin Forsett and wide receiver Jacoby Jones also played there. But it’s a different feeling for a former head coach than a player whose opportunities are typically more abundant when let go.

“We haven’t really talked about it too much,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I saw [Kubiak’s wife, Rhonda, recently], and you definitely know that it means a lot. Like I said, I think he’ll probably have it in his mind, or Owen or whoever, but it’ll definitely be there in the back of some of our minds also just to make sure that we can [win for him].”

It’s hard to argue that Kubiak wound up in an enviable position directing the offense of a 9-5 team on the cusp of making the playoffs. And teams with potential head coaching openings will take notice of Flacco having the finest regular season of his career under Kubiak.

The seventh-year signal-caller has shown improved footwork and awareness in the pocket running Kubiak’s West Coast attack that focuses on more short-to-intermediate passing than what Flacco was used to in the past. Though much of Flacco’s direct communication is with quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison — Kubiak’s former offensive coordinator in Houston — the quarterback and the offensive coordinator have credited adjustments made at the bye week that have helped the 29-year-old raise his level of play down the stretch.

Flacco has completed 66.7 percent of his passes in three of the last four games to orchestrate key road wins in New Orleans and Miami. Kubiak said he looks forward to Flacco’s feedback for the game plan every week and says their relationship continues to improve with nearly a full season together under their belts.

“When he starts talking, Joe likes to talk, so he’ll let me know what he thinks,” said Kubiak as he chuckled. “Our relationship, it’s been good. I coach him hard, but I have a tremendous respect for him, and I think he knows that, and I need to listen to him. That’s my job as a coach.”

Flacco is only one part of the offensive renaissance as the Ravens are on pace to set franchise records for points scored and total yards. A running game that ranked last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.1) a year ago is averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, which would be the third-highest mark in franchise history behind only the 2003 and 2009 seasons. It was Kubiak who suggested to head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome that the Ravens bring in the journeyman Forsett, who leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average and has been one of the great stories of the 2014 season.

But Kubiak’s greatest success has been with the offensive line as his zone-blocking system has meshed better with personnel than what offensive line coach Juan Castillo tried to implement in a disastrous 2013 campaign. Left guard Kelechi Osemele and right tackle Rick Wagner have blossomed into Pro Bowl-caliber linemen this year while three-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda is having arguably the finest season of his career.

The offensive line has blocked for the league’s fifth-ranked rushing attack and has allowed Flacco to be sacked just 16 times all year, which currently ranks just ahead of the lowest single-season total allowed (17) in team history in 2006.

“The biggest thing is the way our offensive line has been playing,” Flacco said. “I think that has a lot to do with the way these guys coach it and the way their system runs. It allows them to play aggressively and play fast and really use their best assets to the fullest. They don’t have any tentativeness when they’re playing. They’re just going full-throttle and really attacking people, and I think that is why it serves us the best.”

Kubiak has been so successful that the Ravens may find themselves right back where they started last January if he receives another head coaching job after the season. Harbaugh and the organization would like nothing more than to have continuity at the offensive coordinator spot after Cam Cameron was dismissed late in the 2012 season and Jim Caldwell left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions after last year’s 8-8 campaign.

Players such as Daniels and Forsett who remember Kubiak in Houston have said they’ve seen a more relaxed man with an obvious passion for teaching and coaching in his new role. A year away from the pressure of being the man in charge has likely helped his overall health, which came into question last year when he suffered a mini-stroke at halftime of a game in early November.

Asked if he’s thought about the possibility of another NFL team calling with the offer of a head gig this winter, Kubiak insists his focus lies solely with the Ravens.

“I don’t think about that at all; I can tell you that. I’m consumed with what I’m doing,” Kubiak said. “Every opportunity I’ve ever had in my life, hopefully it’s because I’m doing a good job and working my tail off where I’m at. I think if you worry about those things, you don’t enjoy what you’re doing at the time. Boy, am I enjoying what I’m doing right now.”

It’s human nature to take a moment from time to time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you might be going next, and Sunday will mark one of those times for Kubiak as the Ravens hope to punch their ticket to the postseason. He may not admit it openly, but you’d have to think he would like nothing more than to end what faint playoff hopes the 7-7 Texans currently have while guiding the Ravens offense to another victory.

A win may not erase the painful memory of being fired from a city he’s called home for much of his life, but Kubiak would be able to hold his head high while remembering his accomplishments in Houston.

“Last season wasn’t what we wanted when we were there,” said Daniels, who was cut by the Texans in March, “but he sure changed the culture around there in terms of everyone in that building being focused on winning. He deserves a lot of credit for that. For him to go back — and hopefully we can take care of business — that will be huge.”

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