As I mentioned in Part I, I like Matt Cassel. I love the guy's work ethic and I love the way he approaches the game. I always want good things to happen to good people. I then went into two long posts about what's wrong with Matt Cassel, so maybe my comment seemed disingenuous. To wrap up my series on Matt Cassel (because clearly, I'm the only person talking about him), I wanted to point out some of his redeeming qualities.
In fairness to Cassel, the scrutiny about what he needs to improve shouldn't override some of the things that we should like about the guy. More after the jump.
In Part II, I talked about how Pioli took a gamble by putting all his eggs into one basket at the Quarterback position. Like "Tin Cup," he only sees one way to the green at the Quarterback position and it's clear that he's not going to lay up on the Matt Cassel front. So on the flip side, if Matt Cassel turns things around, then he suddenly looks like a genius and not an accidental genius. He looks like a genius that got the decision right and stuck to his guns, even while other people were screaming for Cassel's head.
You won't sell me on the idea that Cassel has played well in the first few games; however, you can easily sell me on the idea that he has not reached his ceiling yet. I think what a lot of other people might find frustrating is that it's not like we've seen Cassel perform at his best before. True, the Patriots' offense was a "throw it to your star receiver and let him make plays" offense and sure I'd rather see a Quarterback who takes charge of his offense regardless of the talent around him, but you can't deny that he was very successful in New England. I've also seen flashes of brilliance in Kansas City and it always seems to happen when his back is against the wall. In Jacksonville last season, we saw him lead an almost heroic comeback. We've seen several games where he's led a clutch drive or two (most of those scores, however, were squandered by a defense that gave up points in the closing minutes). I don't know if his performance in New England was his ceiling, but it's certainly proof that he's capable of being better.
He also has the character to be a great Quarterback in this league. Time and time again, we have seen Quarterbacks in this league fail because they didn't have the right attitude (Ryan Leaf) or didn't have the right work ethic (Jamarcus Russell) to be successful. When I look at Tom Brady, I look at a guy who started out in the league with pretty average arm strength and a lot of inexperience. But the word on the street is that the guy is a work fiend. He is a relentless student of game film and goes above and beyond the work expected from an NFL Quarterback. Cassel belongs to that same school. His work ethic is something that's been lightly dusted over. When he talks about looking back at game film to see where he could improve, I have confidence that he's doing that. I know he's trying and I know he's coachable. I sure hope that this translates into results sooner rather than later.
I also have confidence in the coaching staff to get the best out of their Quarterback. It does frustrate me that they essentially wasted a whole year lining Matt Cassel up at Quarterback last season without a coach to pay close attention to fixing him. There are plenty of things that are completely fixable. Charlie Weis has got to develop Cassel into a confident leader. Right now, he's playing a little scared.
Here's a classic example of his coachability: I do appreciate that he has made obvious strides to get rid of the ball fast. To me, he's almost overadjusting. He's rifling through his progressions and at times, he looks like he's almost willing his primary read to get open so he can get rid of the ball fast. The good news is, that's helping him to eliminate negative plays. Let's chalk that up to progress. His next step is to find that happy medium.
As I mentioned in my first post, it just seems that Cassel is so much more comfortable when he is firing the ball with some mustard, and there are times in the beginning of games where he seems afraid to do that. He seems too afraid to make a big mistake. That's a good thing, but he needs to level that off just a little bit better. So thinking about the two above points, maybe the problem hasn't been his ability to adjust; maybe the problem has been in his overadjustment.
I hope and expect that Charlie Weis and staff will continue to work with him on pocket presence. He just doesn't look comfortable in the pocket. Brady, on the other hand, is one of the best I've ever seen at sliding in the pocket to buy time and knowing just the right moment to take a hit before he gets whacked. I'd like to see Cassel show that same comfort level. Instead of jumping and shuffling in a panic when one guy gets loose, find a spot in the pocket to move to. I don't see how this can't be fixed with a little work and experience.
And when he throws the ball, I would like to see him throw it like he means it. Who cares if he's throwing the ball into a tight spot. While I don't want him to become Jay Cutler, I also don't care if he throws a pick or two. Now, in Charlie Weis' offense, I like that he's protecting from the big mistake, but find that right balance. I don't think anyone would call Brady a conservative Quarterback. He's not a guy who's going to have a lot of 3 INT games, but he's had his fair share of INTs in his career.
Finally, ignore the critics like me. His job is safe for the season or, at least, I hope that it is. He's probably going to hear a lot of boos and with every passing game, you're going to be scrutinized to death unless he's consistently perfect. Easier said than done, but of course, the best solution is to continue to improve. The more you improve, the less the critics will come down on him. Start on the basics. Be confident. And if I were to start somewhere, at the very least be more efficient on third downs. I don't care if we whiff on a few big plays or if we throw an incomplete pass or two. But I can't stand when we go 3 and out or squander a 3rd and short opportunity.
Like most of you, I'm rooting for him and I think he has opportunity to improve. Unlike some of you, I'd like to give him the whole season to do that. He's got a very pass-friendly schedule coming up, but at the same time, he has a lot of issues to work through. Let's start to see some results!