Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassel helped his team end three years of football futility by leading them to a 10-6 record, an AFC West Championship and their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Yet, questions about his ability to be a consistent winner and his future in Kansas City still remain.
We all know Cassel’s story. He stepped in for the injured Tom Brady during the first game of the 2008, leading the Patriots to a victory over, guess who, the Kansas City Chiefs. Brady turned out to be finished that season and Cassel went on to lead the Pats to an 11-5 season. Unfortunately, Cassel and the Pats missed the playoffs thanks to the NFL’s backwards rules. The 8-8 San Diego Chargers qualified instead.
By the time the 2009 season started, Herm Edwards had been fired and Scott Pioli, Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel and Todd Haley were all in Kansas City. Their first season together was turbulent. Haley struggled to control his temper while also learning the ropes as a first-time head coach. Pioli desperately turned over the roster searching for players that might stick and help him change the losing culture that had set in under Edwards. Cassel struggled in his first full season as “the guy” as a porous offensive line and a terrible receiving core failed to support him. The Chiefs finished with a 4-11 mark that season with Cassel under center.
Then in 2010, everything changed. Cassel began delivering the ball faster and with more accuracy. WR Dwayne Bowe blossomed into the receiver fans had hoped he would be when he was drafted. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones (mostly Charles) led a rushing attack that stood atop the league all season long. Romeo Crennel brought defense back to Kansas City and thanks to a favorable schedule and some confidence, the Chiefs got out of the gate fast on their way to a 10-6 record (10-5 under Cassel) and an AFC West Championship. The young Chiefs faltered in the playoffs but the future appeared very bright in KC.
Now, thanks to the NFL lockout, a boring offseason , has led those of us that cover the NFL to cover every topic humanly possible. One topic being discussed around NFL circles recently, has been whether or not Matt Cassel is the man to lead the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl appearance since they won the whole thing in Super Bowl IV.
Are the questions fair? On the surface they seem to be. Cassel has a 26-21 record in the NFL.*The record is pretty impressive, especially considering he had to go through a rebuilding season with a horrible team under a new coach in 2009. The fact that Cassel had so little live game action before taking over for Brady makes it even more impressive. The guy has put up playoff qualifying marks in two of his three NFL seasons as a starter. He has shown marked improvement and the ability to deal with tough situations. A lesser man would have fallen apart at being asked to fill the shoes of Tom Brady. A one year wonder would not have bounced back from Cassel’s first season in KC to lead an NFL team to a division championship, regardless of how favorable the schedule is. Yet Cassel managed to do it, though he faced harsh criticism all along the way.
*I am counting the game he came in won as Brady’s backup. Cassel played most of that game and his pass to Randy Moss early in that appearance was the reason the Pats won.
Take a closer look, however, and you can why folks don’t believe in Cassel. His game is not flashy. He rarely wows anyone with an amazing throw to win a game. He doesn’t have a long history of last minute comebacks. He isn’t even the best player in his own offense. His completion percentage leaves something to be desired and while he appears to be improving, his performances against top defenses have been abysmal. And the Chiefs did face an easy schedule in 2011. There is no denying that. Then again, the San Diego Chargers faced an equally easy schedule. As did the Oakland Raiders. Yet it was the Chiefs who won the division. *
*And don’t give me the crap about the Chargers playing a first place schedule. All your previous season’s record determines is two of your opponents. Take a look at who the teams played and how they did in 2010 before you make that argument. The entire AFC West had pretty much the same easy road in 2010.
So which is it? Is Cassel just a below average QB skating by on the backs of more talented teammates, brilliant coaches and easy schedules? Or is he a solid NFL starter who is still developing his NFL skill set?
It appears that Cassel will have the chance to answer those questions in 2011. The Chiefs will be playing a slew of teams that play tough defense and that are consistent winners. If Cassel can perform well and navigate the mine field that is KC’s 2011 schedule, he will likely have fewer doubters, even if the team’s record takes a step back.
If he plays poorly, however, Cassel’s time in KC could be coming to an end. The team is young and talented enough to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2012 and 2013 (if all goes as planned). If Cassel continues to wilt against the league’s elite, the calls for a new QB will likely begin. The Chiefs did draft Ricky Stanzi out of Iowa in the 2011 NFL Draft. There are some folks who believe Stanzi could eventually blossom into an NFL starter. Should Cassel falter in 2011, Stanzi could be taking snaps by the season’s end and could be the starter in 2012.
That is all far, far away though. For now, the job is Cassel’s to lose. Still, as all NFL QB’s inevitably find out, the NFL is about continuously proving yourself. Win a Super Bowl, then you have to win another. Fail to do so and folks will start calling for your job. Cassel will have to keep the Chiefs moving forward to stay on top.
What do you think Addicts? What does Matt Cassel have left to prove?