Ok, this post isn’t to feed the Cassel/Croyle flames, although that is always fun to sit back and watch but just to do an analysis of Cassel. There are so many different opinions on Cassel’s ability that I thought it would be interesting to look at what he has done, what has happened, see why everyone had such a high opinion of him going into last offseason and the possibility for his future. Personally, I don’t know what we have in him, is it the next Scott Mitchell or the next Trent Green? This season should answer that but because I like to speculate and it’s fun to talk about and review this kind of stuff I am writing this.
So, let’s look at Matt Cassel and his career in New England. Since his first couple years in there wouldn’t show anything let’s just look at the year he started.
2008 NE Patriots Stats:
Comp %: 63.4%
QB Rating: 89.4
Those are pretty decent numbers and he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record but I think looking at his individual games gives a better idea of what Cassel is capable of. Remember that prior to taking his first snap against the Chiefs in 2008 he had never thrown more than 4 passes in any single NFL game and had never started in the NFL or college (at least as a QB).
In 2008, Cassel threw a touchdown in at least 10 games with 5 of those games having multiple touchdowns (Weeks 7, 11, 12, 16 with 3 TD’s each, Week 15 with 4 TD’s). He threw an interception in 8 games with only 3 games where he had 2 interceptions. He had 7 games with a passer rating over 100 but also 3 games with a rating in the 70’s, 2 games in the 60’s and one with a dismal 39.4 rating.
Cassel also had 2 games with 400 or more yards passing (Wk 11 and 12 with 400 and 415 yards respectively). In those two weeks he had 815 yards passing with 6 touchdowns and 1 interception and 76 yards rushing. Just to show how those 400 yard games stack up there have been 222 games in NFL history where a QB has thrown for more than 400 yards. Only 5 QB’s have ever thrown for over 400 yards in consecutive games (Dan Fouts 82, Dan Marino 84, Phil Simms 85, Billy Volek 04, and Matt Cassel 08). In 2008, between the regular season and the postseason there were only 8 games where a QB threw over 400 yards and Cassel had 2 of those. 2 games of 400 yards passing puts him in the same company as Jake Plummer, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, John Elway, Carson Palmer and even Trent Green (wk 10 in 2000 and wk 6 in 2003). He also was voted the AFC Offensive player of the week twice, week 7 (Sweet, that was against Denver) and week 12.
The fact is, in 2008 Cassel had a really good year and one that any Chiefs fan would take right now. He had some bad games but he had some great games too. For a guy who had never started a game as a QB, in either the NFL or College, it was a pretty amazing season which earned him a lot of hype and a trade to KC with a new fat contract.
So let’s look at KC and what happened his first year here:
2009 KC Chiefs Stats:
Comp %: 55.0%
QB Rating: 69.9
Ok, in 2009 everything was down for Cassel except his interceptions. He was in one less game, had 23 fewer attempts with 56 fewer completions. His completion % went down 8% with 5 fewer touchdowns and 4 more interceptions. His QB rating dropped from a respectable 89.4 to a miserable 69.9.
During the year Cassel had only one game with more than 300yds passing and 3 games with less than 100 yards passing. He had 10 games where he threw a touchdown and 6 of those were for multiple touchdowns (Weeks 3, 4, 5, 9, 11, and 15). He had interceptions in 8 games with 5 of those being multiple interception games. Cassel had two games with a passer rating over 100 (Wk 3 Philly and wk 11 Pitt). He also had 3 games with a QB rating in the 90s (one of which was a 99.1 wk 15 against Cleveland). 3 games with a rating in the 70’s, 3 in the 60’s, 1 in the 50’s, 1 in the 30’s, 1 in 20’s (still not done, he went lower) and 1 with an absolutely horrendous 14.6 rating (wk 13 Denver and that still makes me shiver thinking about it).
So Cassel’s debut year with the Chiefs had a few ups but was mostly bad. The only way it reflected his 2008 season was in the number of sacks (42 in 09 and 47 in 08). I still think there is reason to hope and give the guy another chance this year. Why? Well let’s examine what happened his first year here.
In Cassel’s first year there were just a lot of negative things going on that directly affected his and the team’s performance. First, the offensive line was, in the nicest way I can put it, a state of flux. We went into 2009 thinking Albert would be good and Waters is Waters. Past those two from the center to the right tackle there were a lot of question marks. The right side of our line kept rotating players until later in the year when O’Callaghan came in and settled the right tackle position. Players like Smith, Alleman, Ndukwe, Richardson, Svitek, Wade Smith and Goff were what played or we were looking at going into the year and most of them were horrendous.
In addition to the players changing, the line was also switching to a zone blocking scheme, one which most of them wasn’t familiar with. This created a learning curve and it was pretty obvious in the beginning but they did get better toward the end of the year. A lot has been made about the lineman, especially Albert, losing all the weight but I don’t know how much affect that had on them. All in all, the lineman started out terribly but they started to come together toward the end of the year and I have high hopes for them this year.
Second was 2.7 (ugh, I just threw up a little in my mouth thinking of him). The first half of the year we couldn’t run the ball and that didn’t help the passing game or the pass protection at all. 2.7 would run left, run right, and run right up the back of any offensive lineman who stood in front of him then fall down. Charles came in at the end and picked it up and with him and Thomas Jones this is going from a weak point the beginning of last year to one of the strengths of the team this year. A good running game is a QB’s best friend.
Third was the coaching change and I put everything in this category, Haley coming in, Gailey making it through training camp then getting fired, and Haley taking over the offensive coordinator position. Now Haley has commented that this didn’t really hurt Cassel last year but there is no way that you will ever be able to convince me of this. Cassel ended up having 3 offensive systems in about 6 months, NE from 2008, Gailey’s, and then Haley’s in late August. Those systems had similarities to them but there were still different and that much change can be horrible for the consistency of any team. Just look at any team that has a history of losing and you always hear about how a player has had 3-4 coaches in 3-4 years. Worse yet for Cassel was the fact that he also now does not have a real QB coach. He has a new system to work with but the person working with him is also responsible for the entire team. There is a reason nearly every team in the NFL has a QB Coach/Offensive Coordinator and it’s because it’s a lot of work. A first year head coach is having a hard enough time managing the team much less being an offensive coordinator and also trying to correct, teach and help a QB who is switching teams and offensive systems.
Fourth, Drops. Ugh, by the end of last year I was so sick of hearing the word drops that when I would hear it in passing I would curl up in the fetal position under my desk sucking my thumb, while singing the theme song to Gilligan’s Island and tears running down my cheeks. Honestly, at times last year watching the passing game was painful and it was a lot because of the drops. Look at the leaders for drops last year and Bowe, Bradley and Wade looked like they were trying to play Wide Receiver after having their fingers amputated. Watching them try to catch a football was like watching a bird attack someone’s face and they would just swipe at it to get it to go away. Drops are the responsibility of the receivers but the QB has to share some of the blame. The fact is there were so many drops last year where it was a catchable ball that it was just unacceptable and ridiculous. The Chiefs have said there were more than 50 dropped passes last year. If the receivers would have caught half of those balls it would have raised Cassel’s completion % from 55% to a much more respectable 60% (493 att to 296 comp for 60%).
So why do I have reason for optimism about Cassel, well mostly because of the reasons above for why he was bad last year. The offensive line is better this year. O’Callaghan has solidified the right tackle spot and Lilja will solidify the right guard. I still think we could do better than O’Callaghan but he played well at the end of last year and I think he could be a serviceable tackle for a couple of years. The unit has also had more than a year to work on the zone blocking scheme and as they showed toward the end of last year they were starting to click. If they can build off of that then we may have a pretty decent line.
Our running game is going from a weakness to a strength. Charles had an amazing second half last year and then we brought in Jones to compliment him. Both of them were great last year and while Jones is getting older he should still have some pop left in him (more than Tomlinson, haha Jets). Upgraded line and upgraded running attack should do nothing but help the offense and Matt Cassel.
Additionally, Charlie Weis is there. This solves the coaching carousal for the QB and the offensive coordinator position. When it happened I didn’t agree that we should dump Gailey last year. It basically made 2009 almost a toss away season for the offense. What it did do was lay the foundation for Weis and I think that will do nothing but help this year. The players and Cassel have had more time in the system and it’s not being changed at the last minute. That plus the fact that Weis is an excellent QB coach and I love the fact that he came in here, watched every play Cassel made, broke it down and worked on his weaknesses. That’s not something Haley would have had time to do last year being the head coach, coordinator and QB coach.
Finally, the drops, who knows if this will get any better but at least Wade and Bradley are elsewhere to shoo the ball away from them. I think this can do nothing but get better because if this gets worse then we should just switch to the wishbone or something. It does look like our receivers are going to be a lot better. By all reports Bowe is having a good camp, Chambers came in and played well last year and I hear we have some guy named McCluster.
Well, I am done trying to ignore my work and it’s time for me to go home so I need to wrap this up, wow that was longer than I thought it would be. I don’t know if Cassel is the answer but I think his 2008 season showed a lot of promise and potential. It showed that if he has a good team around him he can lead the team. If he can grow and build off that then he could be a solid QB. Last year we didn’t place him in much of a position to succeed. He has a lot more weapons, a good QB coach and more time in the system so if he doesn’t get better this year then we know he isn’t the answer. Hmm, maybe Croyle can gain a few more pounds and stay healthy. Seriously Croyle, eat a freaking donut and do a few pushups.
(BTW, sorry for any grammatical mistakes, I didn’t take much time to edit, ok, I didn’t really edit at all)