Matt Cassel has finally started to catch some heat for his play. For most of last season I was a BIG Matt Cassel supporter. Towards the end though, I started to really notice some trends of his and rethink my position about him. So far this season, the trends I picked out have continued and I'm not at all sure he can buck them. Herein I'll grade Cassel on a few critical elements of a quarterback. I'll share my observations draw some conclusions about his abilities.
Arem Strength: This is a vastly overrated trait, but it's not immaterial. Cassel does not have very high arm strength but this can typically be mitigated by play calling (Rich Gannon is a perfect example). He rates low here but in the grand scope of things, it's not a huge deal. Cassel will make or break on other aspects of his game.
Pass Mechanics: Everyone was complaining that Tim Tebow's pass mechanics would prevent him from being a good NFL QB. During the draft coverage, Steve young kept correctly pointing out that the problem wasn't that bad and trying to change his mechanics would make him worse by forcing him to think about throwing. In Tebow's case, his problem is that he drops his arm. By that they mean to say that during his wind up the ball goes to about waist level, which is too low because it is conducive to fumbling. Cassel has a deep flaw in his pass mechanics, a much worse one that Tebow has. Tebow's flaw is in his wind up, Cassle's is his release. This a big issue and if you watch critically, you will see it. Cassel releases his passes much too low. Most QBs tend to release the ball eye level or higher. Cassel releases at more like neck height. This makes him completely unable to put good arch on his passes. Remember that pass last year that Bobby Wade was supposed to catch? The ball was coming in much to shallow, which Wade didn't know how to react to. The same exact thing happened on the pass last week to Moeaki. The ball flew in on a nearly straight trajectory instead of arching and dropping in. It just so happens that Moeaki is a part time astronaut and could get high enough to catch it. Cassel's passes are universally low and straight. This causes him to have too many passes deflected, which should not be an issue for a QB pushing 6'5. After that NT interception against Cleveland, I'm sure a lot of people were thinking 'oh that wasn't his fault, someone batted it." Yes it was his fault, because he can't throw a football right. Cassel was a baseball pitcher in college, and he throws a football exactly like he throws a baseball, which is not a good thing. You could try to coach him out of it bu then you run into the problem Steve Young was talking about. This is a big enough problem that it by itself is nearly fatal to his game.
Leadership: Cassel's key strong suit. Since he has been here, Cassel has been a respectable and unquestioned leader. He's confident enough even to walk up to Todd Haley and give him a mouth full if he needs it. Players obviously respect him. The command of the team he's maintained in spite of his play is testimony to his excellent leadership abilities.
Accuracy: I used to think Cassel was pretty accurate, but my faith it that in wobbling. I think his accuracy is fine short to mid range over the middle, but degenerates elsewhere because of his inability to make certain throws. Another problem I feel he has is that he starts going bananas in his head. He panics and the ball comes out hastily and without the accuracy it would have otherwise. This is kind of what happened with the pass to McCluster vs SF. The pass was a low/straight line drive that was placed awkwardly. McCluster somehow got the ball and simultaneously broke a tackle. Then he literally flew into the end zone. As an aside, I don't know that I think Dexter McCluster is human anymore.
Mobility: Matt Cassel can move pretty well for a big boy. He can run effectively if need be or buy time in the pocket. The only problem here is that all the time in the world isn't enough for Cassel to get the ball out, so his mobility is something of a moot point.
Reads/Decision Making: Poor guy just can't solve a defense. He either A: struggles with his reads and progressions, or B: is overly conservative with the windows he is willing to hit. Most analysts I hear say the former, which I think is part of it, but I feel the latter is much to do with it as well. I think his conservatism is evidenced by his sudden late game effectiveness. This is because he HAS to just make a decision and throw it due to the time constraints. Earlier in the game, he is just unable to force himself to get the ball out. He's thinking "well, lemme just check this read again..." He keeps doing that until he's hurried and either throws a dump off or takes a sack. This is why back in 2008 everyone was suddenly questioning the once vaunted NE offensive line. They allowed so many sacks that people thought they'd gone off the deep end. nothing was wrong with the line, they were just pass blocking for a QB who can't make decisions.
I think that average is about right. Cassel certainly has some strengths but unfortunately they come in areas less germane to on field play. In our last game at SF Cassel had a good game mostly because Charlie Wies did a good job game planning with Cassel's limitations taken into account. They ran a shorter, almost west coast offense most of the time. They had Cassel tossing short to mid-range routs to guys who can extend a play(McCluster, Charles, Moeaki). In that game our traditional WRs only had 3 catches for 67 yards, the largest chunk of which came on that excellently called trick play to Bowe. Charles and McCluster combined for 6 receptions for 126 yards. The game plan was, and probably will be to extend the range of the offense by letting Cassel get the ball out short to guys who can create some YAC. The theme this season will be how much in Matt Cassel holding us back? How well can play in spite of him? How long can we manage his deficiencies before something else must be done?