The Chiefs' regular season is rapidly approaching, which makes this a good time to start talking about their roster position by position. Today, we'll start with the Quarterback position.
Here's where I would grade the Chiefs today:
The Chiefs' Quarterback Grade: B
Chiefs' Offseason Grades: B+
A lower grade for sure, but it has a lot less to do with the Quarterback than it does with the situation.
I'll explain more after the jump
While Matt Cassel made some tremendous strides in 2011, he's going to have play even better given the Chiefs' difficult schedule. Cassel proved he deserves to be a starter in the NFL. The question is, is he going to be a Quarterback who can win big games and carry this team to the Super Bowl? Maybe, maybe not. That's not a knock on him. Only a handful of Quarterbacks can brag that they are.
So why did I grade the Chiefs' Quarterbacks at a B? Actually, it has a lot more to do with the backups than it does with the starter. That would be a pretty harsh grading system to punish a Quarterback because he's not yet Tom Brady. Here's my concern: while I really like the moves the Chiefs made to address the Offensive Line, I also recognize that those changes couldn't have come at a worse time. Ryan Lilja will be switching positions, Jon Asamoah could use quality first team reps, and Rodney Hudson could have used the reps to become a consistent presence toward the second half of the season. By season's end, it's possible that all 5 positions will have a different starter, and this is all happening in an offseason where every single player is scrambling to get into football shape. Furthermore, while I 100% approve of Todd Haley's approach to take things slow in prepping his team for the season, that approach might make the Chiefs a bit sluggish coming out the gate. Long story short, the pass protection is probably going to be very rocky to begin the season.
If you know your offensive line could have some protection issues, then how do the offensive coaches react? They either run the ball 2/3 of the time or they roll the dice and hope their Quarterback can escape healthy. They probably run a few max protects, which will make it even harder for Cassel to establish himself in the passing game. The question is, what if Cassel gets hurt? I was a little more okay with that two years ago when I knew Brodie Croyle was waiting on the bench (back when I thought Brodie Croyle could be a solid backup). I don't feel as comfortable with Tyler Palko on the bench. Palko feels like that Netflix movie you add to your queue, but shove to the bottom of the list. It feels okay in your queue, but when you exhaust your queue, suddenly Tyler Palko shows up in the mail as your starting Quarterback. I like Ricky Stanzi's potential, but he's still a 5th round rookie. I have always said that a backup Quarterback need not be a playoff Quarterback, but instead a Quarterback who can give you a fighting chance to win half of the games in the starter's absence. I hate to say this, but if Cassel falls to injury, the Chiefs' season feels like it could be over.
I gave the Chiefs a B+ for the offseason, though it could easily be an A. The only thing that made me score it a little lower, again, is that it doesn't feel like the Chiefs have a Quarterback who can step in today and at least manage the team to a few wins. I love the Ricky Stanzi draft pick. In my opinion, the Chiefs should have been making 4th or 5th round Quarterbacks every single season the way the Patriots did for so many years. The second great move the Chiefs made was in bringing in Jim Zorn. The question is: what took them so long? It still bothers me to this day that it took 3 years for the Chiefs to bring in a dedicated Quarterbacks coach. If the Chiefs had Peyton Manning on their roster, that would be one thing. But Matt Cassel has had to come a really long way as a Quarterback and, to his credit, he has. Todd Haley knows the Quarterback position well enough to help him along and Charlie Weis too, but neither had the time to really dedicate to tutoring Cassel the way he needed. While we have yet to see if this move pays dividends for the Chiefs, it's looking promising. It sounds like Zorn is really refining Cassel's technique and footwork. Not to mention that he's a dedicated resource for Cassel to talk football with.
How can the Chiefs' Quarterbacks earn an A?
First, Matt Cassel has to stay healthy, even if his pass protection is a little rocky at the onset. If he doesn't stay healthy, we have to hope the Chiefs' backups can fill in. So for me, the first step is to keep our fingers crossed.
What Cassel needs to do is punish defenses for placing an extra defender in the box. Once defenses do pay the pass offense respect, he needs to be efficient at moving the ball downfield. I know some people would argue that he needs to be more aerial than efficient, but I disagree. The Chiefs are built to move the ball downfield methodically. I thought they played their best last season when they controlled the clock. I don't think the Chiefs are built to win in shootouts. Cassel simply needs to play effectively, consistently convert on third downs, and make big throws in big situations. And, of course, this has to be the season where we start to see Matt win some big games. He hasn't really been asked to run a whole bunch of two-minute drills. I have a feeling that this year, he will. How will he respond in those situations?
So this positional evaluation is an interesting one, because for me, a lot of it is based on contingency planning. The good news is, there's a lot of reason to believe that Cassel will be better. He'll have a great coach to mentor him, a vastly improved receiver corps, an even better running game, and potentially by midseason, a really solid offensive line. If Cassel shows those strides, with the Chiefs' running game and defensive improvements, the Chiefs could emerge as a legit threat to go deep into the playoffs.