Over the past three seasons I have spent plenty of energy shouting at the TV during games, and over the last month plenty of time talking to the computer screen as I read Chiefs fan's comments about the quarterback situation in Kansas City. I would have loved Peyton Manning in red and gold, but always saw him as a luxury not a need, so I want to take a moment to explain why I think Matt Cassel can beat out Manning and his curious choice of a team in the Broncos.
In 2009 Todd Haley fired much respected offensive coordinator Chan Gailey before the start of the season, and took over the play calling duties. Matt Cassel posted a 69.9 passer rating that year which was almost a 20 point drop from his previous year in New England filling in for an injured Tom Brady. In 2010 the Chiefs brought in former Patriot offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, and in his own words he "fixed the quarterback position." Matt Cassel had arguably his best year even making a trip to Hawaii. In 2011 Weis left. Haley then propped up Bill Muir in the booth, and again Matt Cassel and the offense struggled. Not to take away from a great career as a coach in the league, but I personally never thought Bill was calling the shots on offense, and saw him more as a front man. I think you can see where I am going with this, but hear me out.
Todd Haley runs a spread offense. The premise is in the name. You spread the defense out horizontally with multiple wide receiver looks. For this to work you need first an offensive line that can protect. An effective way to defend the spread is to blitz because there are less guys staying in to block. Second you need multiple receivers that can read defenses and get open. The last thing you need is a big armed quarterback that can stretch the defense vertically. If you are missing even one of these components in a spread offense your quarterback is going to get hit, and your offense is going to struggle. The truth is Matt Cassel does not have a big arm. Until last season our receiving core was all Bowe, and our offensive line has been a work in progress, so who do you blame?
We all know Haley did not pick Cassel, but that is who he got. We all know he would have preferred going all offense in free agency and the draft, but after the Vermeil and Schottenheimer eras this organization learned the value of defense. Haley refused to play the hand he was dealt like the wiser Weis, and even the coaching staff at the end of last season. The Chiefs began using slants, screens, and shorter high percentage passes to compensate for the lack of a solid running game and poor pass protection. This resulted in linebackers covering instead of blitzing, and Kyle Orton looking more like a savior than a beneficiary.
In his four seasons as a starter Matt Cassel has had two good years and two not so good years, but he has proven he can win when used correctly. I think Brady Quinn had an opportunity stolen from him last year by Tebowmania, and I am anxious to see how the former first round pick and Weis quarterback has progressed. I am also intrigued by Stanzi. I think the Chiefs will follow the Green Bay recipe we used last year, and strive to keep number 18 on the sidelines. I think we can pull it off with our personnel facing a Denver defense that ranked 22nd against the run, lost their number 1 defensive tackle to the Saints, and their defensive coordinator to the Raiders. A healthy Jamaal Charles always chews the Broncos up anyway.
Good coaches will put the players they have in the position to win. The key words in that statement are the "players they have." Harbaugh did it with Alex Smith. Is Alex Smith Peyton Manning? Is he a franchise quarterback? Did he get a franchise deal? Does any of that change your opinion on whether or not the 49ers will win next year? Do not be surprised if Haley is successful with the Steelers. He finally got his big armed quarterback, but with Haley’s ego in full stroke in Pittsburg I think Cassel is poised for a successful year of his own.