NFL Handicapping: To Early To Call Matt Cassel a Bust?
by Trevor Whenham - 10/30/2009
Before Brett Favre decided that he was going to be a diva again and Jay Cutler started to pout, the biggest news of the offseason was Kansas City's aggressive move to acquire Matt Cassel and pay him enough to make it clear that he was the quarterback of the future.
Given that the move was made by Scott Pioli, a genius at building a team and the man who made Cassel what he was in New England, the move was met with high expectations. So far, those expectations haven't been met. To say that the Chiefs have mostly been lousy is an insult to lousy teams.
Depending upon your viewpoint you can say that Cassel has been a disappointment and that he'll be Kansas City's Ryan Leaf, or that he'll be just fine and all you need is a little patience. I'll let you decide which side of that fence you come down on, but what I will do is give you five good arguments for each side:
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Five reasons Matt Cassel is doomed
YPA - If I had to pick a favorite stat it would definitely be yards per attempt. It is the clearest simple indicator there is of how a quarterback and the offense around him are performing. As a general rule, a team with a QB averaging more than seven YPA is competent and has a good chance to win, while a QB below seven YPA is not at least not helping his team out, and might be hurting it. This year, Cassel has topped out at 6.18 YPA, and that was in his first game. Last time out he was at a horrific 3.88 YPA. That's JaMarcus Russell territory. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect more from Cassel at this point.
Completion percentage - In a perfect world a QB would complete at least 60 percent of his passes. We could live with 56 if we had to. Cassel is at 54 percent, and that's skewed by the second game he played, against Philadelphia, when he completed 78 percent. He's at 49.6 percent in his last four games. A pro QB simply must be more accurate than that.
Lack of progress so far - Cassel's first start wasn't great. His second one was much better. Since then, though, he's been on a steady decline. It's okay if a young player isn't playing great as long as you can see signs that he is playing better and figuring things out. That's not the case with Cassel, and he already has a full season under his belt.
Expectations - When Cassel took over for Tom Brady no one expected him to be anything other than disastrous, so anything positive he did was gravy. Now he has a big contract and the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. He wouldn't be the first player to wilt under that pressure.
Comparison to younger guys - Cassel's numbers aren't great by themselves, but they are especially rough when you compare them to other, younger guys. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have both continued to develop after their starts last year while Cassel hasn't. Mark Sanchez has been better by many statistical measures. Cassel has age and NFL experience over all of those guys, so he should be further ahead by now.
Five reasons he'll be just fine
Adjustment time - Before Cassel shone in New England he had three years of holding a clipboard, working with the offense, and absorbing everything he could from the best QB in the game. Now he has come to a new system with a new staff, and he wasn't even healthy through all of the preseason. It's not a wonder that the guy looks a little lost out there. If he still looks like this in a year or two then he might be in trouble, but for now you just have to accept that few guys would look any good right now in his place.
Offensive coordinator mess - For his last two years in New England the offense was run by Josh McDaniels. He's already shown us in Denver that he's a heck of a coach who can work wonders with quarterbacks. Since joining the Chiefs, Cassel has seen his first OC fired right before the season, and his current OC is also the head coach. Todd Haley can call plays well as we saw in Arizona, but he obviously can't put his full effort into running the offense when he has to run the whole team and figure out what he is doing at the same time. The OC situation in K.C. should get sorted out in the offseason. If Cassel still struggles once he gets some stability then we have a problem, but now he's just a victim of laughable circummstances.
Personnel differences - When Cassel took over in New England he was protected by three guys - Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen - who were coming off of Pro Bowl appearances. At wideout he had another Pro Bowler in Randy Moss, and Wes Welker, who was coming off of a 112 catch season. He almost couldn't fail in those circumstances. This year he is surrounded by a bunch of guys who are new to the team, and most of them would struggle to make the UFL all-star team, never mind the Pro Bowl. Football is the ultimate team sport, so Cassel is working against a massive handicap.
Head Coaching - I like Todd Haley, and I think he has the potential to be a good head coach some day, but by no measure is Todd Haley Bill Belichick. I am a very big believer that the head coach in football has far more of an impact than almost any other sport, so even if all other things were completely equal Cassel would have been in a better situation last year and likely would have done better. All things are, of course, far from equal here.
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Selective memory - We remember how Cassel performed down the stretch last year, and how he won 11 games and should have made the playoffs. What we don't remember, though, is that he didn't really jump out of the starting blocks last year, either. In his first six games this year, Cassel has thrown eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Last year over the same time frame he had just six touchdowns and four interceptions. Last year he had 1,095 yards in six games. This year he has 994. His numbers were better at the start of last year than they are this year, but not so much better that we should panic or write him off. Maybe the guy just isn't a September QB.