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Chiefs Roster Evaluation: Matt Cassel

We continue our Kansas City Chiefs roster evaluation by taking a look at the most important player on the team in QB Matt Cassel.

There was certainly a lot of fiery debate in the comments of Arrowhead Addict about the full extent of the talents of Cassel this season, particularly early in the season. The debate was for good reason. Cassel was struggling. The more patient among us believed that Cassel would still develop, the irrational among us declared that there was nothing wrong with the way he was playing despite his low completion percentage and yardage totals.

As the season went on, however, Cassel grew and so did the general opinion of his play. The QB seemed more comfortable in the pocket and he demonstrated a much better knack for avoiding costly mistakes. His accuracy and efficiency showed marked improvement over his 2009 campaign. That improvement went far beyond Cassel’s TD numbers.

I for one believed Cassel’s TD numbers to be a bit of a mirage. Yes Cassel threw the TD’s and deserves credit for them but the Chiefs also threw the ball in the redzone an inordinate amount of time, especially for a team with such a strong running game. The the fact that the Chiefs lead the league in rushing but had so few rushing TD’s from their top back proves that the team preferred to throw in the redzone. There is nothing wrong with this strategy as it was generally successful and Cassel certainly shouldn’t be penalized for doing his job and throwing touchdowns but we must remember the circumstances of that lead Cassel to those numbers if we want to give him a fair evaluation.

No for me, I was more interested in Cassel ability to avoid interceptions, deliver accurate passes and protect the football in the pocket. I think there is no doubt that Cassel improved greatly this season and though he struggled in the season’s final couple of games, he has to walk before he can run.

A major criticism of Cassel at this point would have to be that he seems to play very well against weaker or softer defenses but struggles mightily against the league’s tougher defenses. I think this criticism is fair but it doesn’t mean that Cassel is a failure as a QB. Since 2010 saw him improve in taking care of the football as well as accuracy, the next logical step would be for him to elevate his game to be effective against playoff teams.

Though we know Cassel improved in 2010, we still need to take a look at his numbers and grades from Pro Football Focus. I spoke briefly with Niel over at PFF to find out more about how they grade QB’s and what his specific thoughts on Cassel were. Keep in mind as always that though the numbers from PFF are not official they are likely more accurate than anything you will find on a players page at ESPN.com. PFF grades players on every play of every game and they try to do so in as fair a manner as possible. For instance, if Cassel throws a perfect pass to Dwayne Bowe and the WR allows the ball to bounce off of his chest and into the arms of a defender, PFF is not going to heavily penalize Cassel for that play, if at all.

Another interesting note is on the sack and pressure numbers you will see below for Cassel. These numbers will not tell you how many times Cassel was sacked on the season but how many times the sacks and pressures were Cassel’s fault. Here is what Niel from PFF had to say about it:

Yes the sacks, hits and  pressures beside Cassel are the one’s he was deemed responsible for (e.g. hung onto the ball for too long or stepped up to run when no space)

And more on the grading of QB’s:

The way we evaluate QBs is on a throw by throw basis. In our system you can be intercepted but (if it wasn’t your fault) still get a positive grade or throw a TD and (if it was a simple throw – screen to a HB etc.) get next to nothing.

With that, let’s get to it:

The Numbers:

Snaps: 1,110

Sacks: 5

QB Hits: 1

QB Pressures: 3

Thrown Away: 24

Hit As Threw: 5

Batted Passes: 13

Spikes: 5

Yards: 3116

Yards Per Attempt: 6.9

Dropped Passes: 26

TD’s: 27

INT’s: 7

QB Rating: 93.0

While a lot of these numbers don’t tell us much as far as Cassel’s performance goes, some are rather illuminating. In 16 games (including the playoff game, minus the “appendectomy game”) Cassel was responsible for 5 sacks, 3 pressures and 1 QB hit. That is pretty good. I don’t have his 2009 numbers in front of me but I am willing to bet they were much worse in these departments. This tells us that if someone makes an argument that Cassel holds on to the ball too long doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. In the NFL if you hold on to the ball too long defenses are going to get to you. PFF tells us that Cassel did a pretty good job of avoiding pressure and helping his offensive line.

Drops, which were a big problem for the Chiefs last season, were not as big an issue in 2010. In fact, of all rated QB’s, Cassel was tied with Matt Ryan (PFF’s top graded QB) in QB’s drops with 26. Cassel in Ryan were 14th among rated QB’s in drops. #1 was peyton Manning with 46 dropped passes. #2 was Tom Brady with 43. The more you throw…

Speaking of how much you throw, Cassel had 262 drop backs. Manning? 697. Just thought that was interesting.

The Grades:

Pass +19.0

Rush: +5.5

Overall: +22.2

The above overall includes Cassel’s playoff game where he was graded at a -1.4. His regular season final grade was a +23.6.

Cassel’s regular season grade of +23.6 ranked him as the 19th best QB of all QB’s who took at least 25% of their team’s snaps. Cassel finished just ahead of rookie Sam Bradford (+21.8) and just behind Chad Henne (+24.8).

Here are the top 5 PFF QB’s and their grades:

Matt Ryan: +61.3
Peyton Manning: +60.0
Philip Rivers: +58.4
Aaron Rodgers: +57.0
Drew Brees: +55.5

Cassel’s top 3 games were: Seattle (+6.7), Tennessee (+5.7) and Arizona (+3.6). His worst 3 games were Oakland 2 (-2.9) Baltimore (-1.4) Denver 2 (-0.3).

Here is more from Niel at PFF:

Patrick: When I mention to the readers that Cassel graded just under Chad Henne, they will surely want to know how that happened given Cassel’s TD to INT ratio vs. Henne and their respective QB ratings.

Niel:

Firstly I ignore NFL ratings – they often lie. The grading on Cassel may seem harsh but frankly I’ve never seen that much in him to get excited about and I think it’s instructive that he saved his worst two games of the season for last. Is he on a par with Henne? All I know is I wouldn’t want either for my QB on recent form although I do see slightly more hope in Cassel. I think if the rest of your offense is OK (barring a few O-lIne issues and a WR it definitely is) Cassel is bright enough not to screw it up whereas Henne looks like an accident waiting to happen but has the ability to make throws Cassel can’t with any consistency.

The Verdict:

I saw enough from Cassel this season to believe that he is an ascending starter. I believe he is demonstrating improvement and I think he is deserving of a starting spot in the NFL right now. The book on Cassel is still open. The main question on Cassel is how far he will ascend. Will he continue to get better or has he reached his peak? How far is his peak? I think how long Cassel will be a starter depends on these questions.

I think what Niel said when he said he hadn’t seen a lot from Cassel to get excited about is a valid point. Cassel has never appeared to be the kind of QB that can wow you ala Manning, Brady or Rivers. That being said, it doesn’t mean that Cassel can’t eventually reach that level. It also doesn’t mean that Cassel can’t win in the NFL. Cassel may never have Manning’s arm but he may not need it. Joe Montana was more known for his accuracy than his power. Cassel appeared much more accurate this year and accuracy can be deadly.

There isn’t much question that Cassel needs to continue to improve to lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl. He’ll also need the team to continue to improve around him. The way the Chiefs are being built, I think, perfectly suites a QB like Cassel. The Chiefs aren’t being built to be a team that relies on just one guy to win every game with his arm. They are being built to win as a team with many different players contributing. I think we saw nice flashes of that in 2010 and we can likely expect that trend to continue as long as Scott Pioli is running the show.

What do you think Addicts? There is a lot of information here and I hope you found it informative. Do you think Cassel is the man? Based on the info here, has your opinion been changed or altered at all? Sound off!

Chiefs Roster Evaluation:

Jovan Belcher

Barry Richardson

Kendrick Lewis

Branden Albert

Wallace Gilberry

Tony Moeaki

Verran Tucker

Mike Vrabel

Ron Edwards

Tyson Jackson

Dwayne Bowe

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Topics: Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Cassel

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