Brett Rypien noticed a change in his position coach almost immediately.
When the Broncos quarterbacks showed up for work Week 11, coming off a dispiriting post-bye week loss to Tennessee, Klint Kubiak’s demeanor on the practice field felt different.
“No doubt. He was super, super animated,” Rypien said then.
That’s because head coach Nathaniel Hackett had turned play-calling duties over to Kubiak, the first-year Denver assistant, after 10 weeks of lackluster performances, the last a 17-10 loss in Nashville.
In the five games since, progress has been slow, but Kubiak said that he’s settling into the new role.
“It’s been an adjustment, been working side-by-side with (offensive coordinator Justin Outten) and Coach Hackett,” Kubiak said recently. “Our process hasn’t really changed. It’s been really good working with Justin and Coach on gameday, the input that they give, and it’s been a group effort.”
Kubiak spent 2019-20 as the quarterbacks’ coach in Minnesota and was promoted to offensive coordinator and play caller last year, but head coach Mike Zimmer was fired after the season. Kubiak, the 35-year-old Regis Jesuit High graduate and former Broncos assistant, returned to Denver to join Hackett’s first staff as the quarterbacks’ coach.
It hasn’t exactly been smooth going as Denver’s offense didn’t experience an immediate turnaround when Kubiak took over play-calling, either. The Broncos managed only two offensive touchdowns in his first three games and turned in perhaps their worst performance of the season in a 23-10 loss at Carolina on Nov. 28.
In the past two weeks, though, the results have improved. The Broncos have doubled their number of three-touchdown outings in that span, scoring 28 points and 24, their two best scoring outputs of the season, against Kansas City and Arizona.
“You just keep swinging,” Kubiak said. You keep looking at the tape – what can we do better? Where can we improve? What moves do we have to make to play better football? And that’s been a staff effort. … Part of the major discussion going in (to any game) is who are your best playmakers? Who are you trying to get the ball to?” That hasn’t been consistent this year, but nobody feels sorry for us.
“Every team, everyone has their little problems and ours have been some personnel things.”
Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson has seen an uptick in efficiency since Kubiak started calling plays. In four starts, Wilson has completed 66.9% of his passes compared to 57.4% in eight starts before. His adjusted net yards per attempt has held mostly steady – 6.94 yards with Kubiak compared to 7.02 with Hackett – and he’s only thrown one interception in his four most recent games. Wilson is still on track to finish with his worst season, by a considerable margin. He’s played to a quarterback rating of 93.0 in his past four games compared to 81.4 before.
For reference, 93.0 for the entire season would slot Wilson No. 13 in the NFL, between Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. His overall mark of 85.0 is No. 26 in the NFL.
“I see him playing a lot better these last four weeks,” Kubiak said of Wilson. “He’s never going to give you an excuse because that’s the kind of guy he is. Every week there’s guys in and out of the lineup and I think it’s a good story of his leadership. Any time there’s a new guy in the lineup, he’s spending extra time with that guy making sure he’s comfortable.
“I think Russ’ play the last four weeks has been positive, we’ve just got to go win games. That’s the most important thing.”
Wilson will be back on the field for Denver on Sunday against the Rams after sustaining a concussion against Kansas City and being held out of the Broncos’ 24-15 win against Arizona this past Sunday. He was injured at the end of a play in which he converted a third-and-11 with his legs. Kubiak said there’s a balance between relying on Wilson’s legs too much but still benefiting from his ability to run. Wilson rushed for a season-high 57 yards against Kansas City before getting knocked out of the game.
“We want him to use his God-given tools and that’s one of his best ones,” Kubiak said. “I thought (against the Chiefs) he really stepped it up in some major situations. That’s part of who he is. He’s got the extra weapon of his legs. We were glad to see him do that. Obviously, then he got injured on that play. That’s part of the game.
“At the end of that play he was competing as hard as anybody and I know his teammates really respect that about him.”