The Chargers game was a weird. From impossibly long drives to Rivers having one of his worst games ever, this game was a fluke turnover away from being amazing. Unfortunately, because of the context in which it happened, much of this was missed by a large number of fans. Because the current fad of thinking Pioli/Haley/Cassel need to be replaced is clouding their judgment, many are missing the forest for the "Cassel Sucks!!!" comments. There is a lot to this game, including some very real positives, that is being missed because it happened to cause our team to go 0-3 in a season where very little is going right. After the jump I will dissect what happened.
First of all, context is important. Remember that we are missing Berry, Flowers for part of the game, and, most importantly, Jamaal Charles. Cassel went 17/24 for 176 yards with 2 TD's and 1 INT while Rivers went 24/38 for 266 yards with 0 TD's and 2 INT's. Cassel had 7.33 Y/A and 6.84 NY/A (NY/A is net yards per attempt, which is yards per attempt that takes into account sacks). As a team, we had 27 runs for 81 yards for 3.0 Y/C. But, since we had so many people run the ball, it should be noted that McCluster had 9 carries for 45 yards (5.0 Y/C) while everyone else had 18 carries for 36 yards (2.0 Y/C).
(A note one NY/A for those who don't see it's enormous analytic power. It's calculated by taking the net passing yards, which is total passing yards minus sack yards, and dividing it by pass attempts plus sacks. What it tells you is, when Haley/Muir/whoever calls a passing play, you can expect to gain that many yards on average. But, and this is crucial, it doesn't matter how the QB got those yards. If Cassel threw between his legs on every throw, it wouldn't matter to the NY/A stat as long as they went somewhere. So this condenses all of the traits like arm strength and going through a progression to one stat that shows how how they are actually effecting the game.
But wait, there's more. NY/A doesn't care how you got those yards, as I said, but this also applies to what kind of throws a QB makes. If a QB went 10/10, but every pass was 5 yards, he'd have the same NY/A as a QB who was 5/10, but every pass was for 10 yards. So NY/A solves the question of whether short and accurate passes are better than long but inaccurate passes, because it just cares how many yards you get per attempt, which is all that really matters. So if you say that Cassel sucks because of all the short passes, but his NY/A is still good, then it means the short passes are effective.)
Those stats, by themselves, don't say a whole lot. The only real piece of information is that all our running backs except McCluster are terrible, but McCluster is too small to get more than 10 carries a game. We can also note that Cassel had a better game than Rivers as a whole, but that mainly shows how good our defense was. The interesting part of this game has to do with offense, and specifically a break down by half.
As the pessimists have noted, the first half was pretty bad. Cassel went 6/7 for 18 yards (2.57 Y/A and 1.63 NY/A), which is absolutely terrible. But it was actually much worse than you think, because we also got two interceptions in that half. The fact that we had a +2 turnover ratio but were outscored 10-0 in that first half speaks volumes. Without those interceptions, we would have been on our way to another blowout.
However, the second half got interesting. Real interesting. The reason why should already be obvious. If we were outscored 10-0 in the first half and eventually lost 20-17, that means we outscored the Chargers 17-10 in the second half. This is even more meaningful since we had a -1 turnover differential, the Chargers got the ball first and Flowers got injured. That's right, the Chargers got every break the second half, yet we still outscored them. Even more amazing, especially to the pessimists, Cassel had a good second half. Actually, he had an amazing second half.
I know that many will find it hard to believe, but it's true. The following are the Y/A (I like NY/A better, but it's harder to get, so Y/A is sufficiently good for this. NY/A would make Cassel look better since he wasn't sacked in the second half.) of Brady vs. the Bills, Brees vs. the Texans, Rodgers vs. the Bears, and Cassel's second half. See if you can spot Cassel:
Got your answers written down? The answers are 1. Brees 2. Rodgers 3. Cassel 4. Brady.
I'll be honest, even I wasn't expected that kind of blowout. Before I even looked up the numbers, I thought Cassel would get beat by at least one of them, or even all of them, but that he'd at least be comparable. I simply picked the best QB's who played last week.
Point is, Cassel's second half was awesome in the old fashioned sense (i.e. worthy of awe). In fact, if you needed more convincing, our four Cassel-led second half drives resulted in a TD, FG, TD, and INT.
So, what about that interception? Well, here's the video, which I watched a dozen times trying to figure out exactly what happened. Yes, Cassel did throw it poorly, and he should get blame, but ultimately this is not the type of throw that only bad QB's make. Even players like Brady and Manning mess up on those easy ones, especially since the play was designed so that Cassel only looked at McCluster at the last second. When this happened, Cassel saw #71 where he wanted to throw, so he had to adjust the throw mid-motion and simply over did it. The fact that Weddle happened to be there was due to just plain bad luck. Had Weddle done a better job of recognizing the screen, he wouldn't have been in position to make the interception. Had Lilja tried to block him towards the sideline instead of trying to block him upfield, the ball would have hit his back and been incomplete. In fact, if Cassel had made the bad QB throw, it would have been intercepted by #71 instead.
Ultimately, the question is why the Chiefs did so much better the second half. The offense was about as bad as you can get the first half, but suddenly became good the second half. What happened?
Well, I can't say for sure, but my best guess is that somebody, Cassel or Haley or Muir, had a revelation at halftime. Last year, when we had Charles, we could focus our entire offense around him, and as long as Cassel didn't turn it over, we could win. But now that Charles is out, we simply can't do that any more. Our running backs outside of McCluster simply aren't good enough, and McCluster can't take the pounding that we would need to put him in Charles' role. So, when they realized this, they figured our only hope was to let Cassel air it out and see what happened. We went from a run-centered to a pass-centered offense, and it paid off big time. Cassel suddenly looked like one of the best QB's in the game, and we were very close to completing the come back. I can't be 100% sure that they even changed their game plan at all, but it looked to me that they did, and that that was the biggest cause of the shift.
So is this just a fluke, or a real shift in philosophy? Hopefully it's the latter. If the team does decide to go in a more pass-oriented direction, it could end up being a blessing in disguise. Becoming a passing team is the best thing that could happen, now and for the future.There are two reasons why:
1. Passing is much more important than running in today's NFL.
2. Jamaal Charles doesn't play by the rules.
The reason for the first one is that there is a wider gap between good and bad passing teams and good and bad rushing teams. Last year, the best passing team was San Diego with 7.8 NY/A, while the worst was Carolina with 4.3 Y/A. That's a difference of 3.5 NY/A. On the other hand, the best rushing team was the Eagles with 5.4 Y/C (skewed because of Vick) while the worst was Bengals with 3.6 Y/C. That's a difference of 1.6 Y/C. So a team had more to gain from being a good passing team than being a good rushing team.
(If you don't buy that reasoning, just think about the last couple Super Bowl Champions. None of them relied solely on a good running game, while at least one (New Orleans) relied almost solely on their passing game.)
However, rule #2 allowed us to fool ourselves. With his 6.4 Y/C, running with Charles was like passing with a good passing offense. So we were the only team in the NFL that could win with a run-centered offense. And now that Charles is injured, we no longer have that luxury. If we want to get back to .500, we have to do it with a passing offense.
But what if we succeed? What if we do get a good passing game going with Cassel, and then eventually with Stanzi. While we won't do much this year, we will have a strong foundation for next year. Next year, instead of Charles being the center of our offense, he is just another piece. Defenses can no longer stop us by stopping Charles, they would have to concentrate on stopping both.
And this, to me, is a silver lining to this entire ordeal. If Stanzi pans out and turns out to even be a good-but-not-great QB, added into an offense that centers around the pass but has a running back that gets 6 yards every time he touches the ball, our offense suddenly looks good. It looks real good. But what's even scarier is that our team is built around defense, as was shown clearly against the Chargers even without Berry. So, with a pass centered offense and one of the best defenses in the league, the Chiefs suddenly look like one of the best teams in the NFL.
In the coming weeks I'll be watching Chiefs games like I watched Royals games. With the playoffs pretty much out of the picture, I won't be too concerned with whether we win or lose. I'll care more about whether our offense can do well without leaning on the run game.