Kubiak impact on Vikings’ offense is clear; Broncos to visit

Published 2:26 am Friday, November 15, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings needed to refresh their offense after that flop of a finish to last season, and coach Mike Zimmer sought another experienced confidant.

Adding Gary Kubiak to the staff has clearly changed the dynamic around this team for the better.

“Gary has been tremendous. It’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me since I’ve been here,” said Zimmer, who’s hardly prone to hyperbole.

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Though he has the lower-profile title of senior adviser and assistant head coach and works from the press box during games, Kubiak has not escaped attention in Minnesota. The resume of a former NFL quarterback featuring 11 years as an offensive coordinator in the league, 10 seasons as a head coach and four Super Bowl rings came with instant credibility. His collaborative, unassuming approach as a mentor to offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and a support for quarterback Kirk Cousins has been well-received around the team.

The proof of a positive impact can be found in the production, too. The Vikings (7-3) are fourth in the NFL in yards per play (6.1) and ninth in points per game (26.2) after ranking 19th in both of those categories last year.

This week, Minnesota hosts Denver, shining an even brighter spotlight on Kubiak. The Broncos (3-6) were his longtime team, as a player, assistant, coach and adviser. After spending the last two years, largely for health reasons, as a draft consultant to president of football operations John Elway, Kubiak was considered a favorite to return to the sideline this season as new coach Vic Fangio’s offensive coordinator.

They weren’t able to work out the particulars, though, leading Kubiak to the Vikings. Zimmer fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo with three games left on the 2018 schedule, making Stefanski his fourth play caller in six year.

Zimmer long respected the scheme that Kubiak directed in Denver. Outside zone running and play-action passing with multiple tight ends were among the tenets that have proven to be ideal fits for Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and a mobile offensive line that frequently struggled with both run blocking and pass protection in the prior system. Zimmer even said during the offseason that he found listening to Kubiak discuss strategy “almost romantic,” with the 63-year-old immediately re-energized by his 68-year-old colleague in a game that has increasingly given big-time jobs to up-and-comers a generation behind them.

Though it’s been two decades since the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls with this scheme, the creativity of Stefanski and the adaptability of Kubiak have helped the Vikings keep it relevant. Kubiak, who declined interview requests this week, told Zimmer that maintaining the legacy of the system was important to him when he was hired last winter.

“He’s open to anything that looks like it makes sense,” Zimmer said. “I think that’s just the type of guy he is.”