The Deep Ball Criticism of QB Matt Cassel

Cassel_medium Since I've done more reading on the Kansas City Chiefs new QB Matt Cassel in the last week than I ever have before, I've noticed a couple of consistent criticisms.

One, which we've been over here at AP, is the fact that Cassel was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last season. The other criticism that seems to come up is that Matt Cassel can't throw a deep pass to save his life.

Now, as Chiefs fans, you're probably nodding your head in agreement as you remember Cassel's first pass against the Chiefs in Week 1. It fluttered a touch and was a bit short but Randy Moss came up with it anyway.

Personally, I've never been bothered by a QB who didn't have the strongest arm. I like QBs that can zip their passes, like Cassel can, but they don't have to be able to throw the ball 70 yards down the field for me to be impressed with the strength of their throws. Mostly, because the vast, vast majority of passes aren't deep throws. Why should I care about a QBs ability to make a play that rarely happens anyway? I'm only really worried if the quarterback can't throw it 40 yards, which we're not really dealing at that level in the NFL. Passing deep is one of many variables in a quarterback's play and hardly a necessary one.

I went and looked up Cassel's passing numbers on NFL.com and they didn't really shock me. I expected a much sharper contrast between his deeper passing numbers than other QBs in the league.

Last year (and that phrase will always apply to Cassel until the season starts), Matt Cassel threw 37 passes that gained over 20 yards. He threw 6 passes that gained over 40 yards. (I'm not sure how many of those passes were dumps to Randy Moss that gained over 20 or 40 yards but I imagine at least a few.)

The quarterbacks that threw fewer 20 yard passes than Cassel last year? Ben Rothlisberger, Joe Flacco, Kerry Collins and Jeff Garcia to name a few. Is "game manager" a phrase that seems to link all four of those guys together? Yes, I would say that fits for each of them.

And that's the rub about looking at Matt Cassel's one year of stats and trying to draw conclusions from them. As I've been reading about Cassel (and Pats fans please back me up on this), it seems like he wasn't allowed out of that game manager role until his 5th or 6th start of the year. That's almost half of his season. Naturally, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff were curious just what they had in Cassel before they let him loose. It happens with every new quarterback. We don't have a full sample of this guy in his prime.

Also, Cassel was likely limited by a weak offensive line, meaning he had few chances to step up to throw a deep pass. His short time in the pocket probably dictated that he throw shorter passes.

Here is some specific info on the the Patriots' passing tendencies last season. Make sure you look at the titles of each column and don't get confused like I did. I think this graph points towards Cassel being held back a bit by the Patriots coaching staff.

New England Patriots 2008 Passing Offense

Short Left Short Middle Short Right Deep Left Deep Middle Deep Right
Plays: 171 Plays: 112 Plays: 169 Plays: 28 Plays: 14 Plays: 39
NFL Rank: 8 NFL Rank: 11 NFL Rank: 19 NFL Rank: 25 NFL Rank: 28 NFL Rank: 11
Avg Gain: 8.67 Avg Gain: 5.61 Avg Gain: 6.48 Avg Gain: 5.57 Avg Gain: 12.71 Avg Gain: 7.69
NFL Rank: 1 NFL Rank: 30 NFL Rank: 2 NFL Rank: 31 NFL Rank: 18 NFL Rank: 24

Not too many deep plays, like with most QBs. We're hoping Cassel comes to KC and develops much further beyond the game manager role and I think he will. You just can't tell that from his one season of stats.

Finally, if you're still not convinced that the deep ball isn't an issue for Matt Cassel, go back and watch this great set of highlights from last season and tell me where you have issues. Once I looked at those clips again, I have to say that even that first pass against the Chiefs was pretty on the money. He's also looked quite good in passing in the intermediate range.

Passing deep is overrated. Ask Chad Pennington. If Cassel shows he has issues throwing the deep ball in KC, I don't think it will be a deal breaker.

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