Matt Cassel: Time To Go

Was it encouraging? Sure. Did it feel like a moral victory. Maybe. Can we tell anything more about this team now? I’d say yes.

Especially as it concerns Matt Cassel.

Throughout the Chiefs-Chargers game on Sunday, the Chiefs were consistently winning both lines of scrimmage but, losing the skill positions battle. Although Sunday was encouraging overall, in the end, it was the skill position players who stood between the Chiefs and a victory. Specifically, Matt Cassel and Ryan Succop.

I’ve been a fan of Matt Cassel since his days at USC. Southern California is an old stomping ground for me so, I’ve had a special affinity for players who hail from them there parts. Like many fans who followed Cassel’s college career, or lack thereof, I have often been struck by the question, “What if he had not had to back up Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart?”

Carson Palmer’s above-average career has often made me side with Pete Carroll’s decision between the two. Several aspects of Matt Leinart’s career have bolstered my questions about “what if” scenarios and up until Sunday I felt justified in feeling that Cassel should have started at USC over Leinart.

In the past couple of years there “appeared” to be progress on the part of Mr. Matt. Many times I would reason that if he had more WR weapons at his disposal, he’d be a lot better. Furthermore, there would be no way to properly judge him until we had a stable of good wide receivers.

However, Sunday’s game was just the tip of the iceberg because I spent some time looking into Matt Cassel’s performance history and didn’t like what I found.

What made me change my mind about him? Was there a series of events that triggered this in the game with the Chargers? Yes, and here’s what happened.

Dwayne Bowe went high to pull in a pass and as he turned and was coming down he was hit from both sides, and had to leave the game.

Immediately, Matt Cassel began to target Steve Breaston for multiple significant gains.

At first, I was tickled that Breaston was finally coming through for the red and gold and then it hit me: it’s not Breaston who hasn’t been getting open, Cassel has been incapable of reading any more than his primary receiver, which to this point in time, has been Dwayne Bowe.

For Matt Cassel, his second option has almost without fail been his check-down receiver out of the backfield and that’s always a bad sign. BTW… playbooks in the NFL haven’t listed the RB out of the backfield as the first or second option since Marshall Faulk was in the league. That’s an over-exaggeration but, you get the point. There have been games when I swear Cassel has thrown the ball more to his check-down man than his primary receiver. He almost never goes to his second, third or fourth options as someone like Drew Brees or Aaron Rogers does.

Matt Cassel’s inability to go to his 2nd, 3rd or 4th receivers… coupled with his continued difficulty sensing pressure in the pocket… brings his progress toward becoming an elite NFL QB to a dead end.

I no longer believe he can.

Flash back to the end of the 2009 season when Chris Chambers was “the man” and Cassel was going to him primarily. In reality, Dwayne Bowe was also on the field but, not thrown to very often. Please don’t give me the line about Bowe not being able to hold on to the ball. That has nothing to do with this. As if Cassel is thinking… I won’t throw to Bowe because he can’t hold on to it. Don’t go there. We also like to tell ourselves the story… that Haley’s influence, plus a summer at Larry Fitzgerald’s camp for wayward boys, fixed Bowe. However, the reality is: Matt Cassel only has one eye.

Having one eye might work great in a personal relationship but, on the football field it can be a death knell for quarterbacks. Sunday’s game fixed Matt Cassel’s fate in my view.

I no longer believe he can change. This coming May, he will be 30 years old. If he hasn’t opened both eyes by now, do you think we should wait until he’s 35?

Let me qualify this. To do that, let me first talk about Brody Croyle. I don’t think Brody Croyle “can” be a good QB in the NFL. At this point, many of even the most staunch Croyle supporters would agree with that assessment. And, I also don’t think Matt Cassel “can” become an elite QB in the league, one who will take the Chiefs to the promised land. My evaluation of Matt Cassel is one that I feel with the same assuredness as I do the one of Brody Croyle. I’m not saying I would evaluate them to be at the same ability level. I am saying I feel as strongly about one evaluation as I do the other.

Todd Haley spoke after the game and said he addressed “believing in yourself” with the team. He said,

“As I tell them all the time, if we believe what others tell us we are, then it probably won’t be a real good result. We just need to believe in ourselves and that’s what we’ve got. A group of guys that really believe in one another and I believe when you have that, you can do special things.”

I like the fact that Coach Haley believes in his players that much. I also believe in synergism but, it’s not going to save Matt Cassel or make a difference in his performance on the field. Inspiring your players to play like Rudy in “Rudy” the movie or winning one for the Gipper, might work in isolated situations but, Cassel has had plenty of time to prove himself and he has not done that.

Do you think that there’s a grandiose super duper inspirational pep talk that could transform Brody Croyle into an effective NFL starter? Me either. And, at this point, I no longer believe Matt Cassel can ever learn… adjust… adapt… correct… grow… or get inspired enough to become the on-field elite leader the Chiefs need to become a championship contender.

Sometimes a cricket’s destiny is to become… a cricket. No machismo commercials espousing others to, “Come at me bro”, is going to change that.

Back in July I wrote a piece called, “The Chiefs New 6y Beast.” It was a play on words… 6y for sexy… and, the point of the piece was to say that the Chiefs would have a beast to defend against, passing-wise, with all 6 of these players on the field at the same time: Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki. I still get jazzed thinking about the possibilities. This setup could have made Todd Haley look brilliant but, half of these players have been out and now the play calling has turned into 3-yards and a cloud of dumb. Besides, even if everyone was in full health, I can see now that with Matt Cassel at the helm, defenses will only ever need to key on one, possibly two, players because he never goes through his progressions to find the 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th receiver. Rename it… the Beast-est with the Least-est.

After a year behind the N.E. wheel, Cassel looked the part, with championship caliber players all around him. However, after two years and three games in K.C. it’s clear Cassel has no ability to steer a game, or impose his will on a contest. The game happens to him; he doesn’t happen to the game.

There are some players in the league whose progress can be charted during their tenure. Others come and leave because of a career-ending injury. Matt Cassel’s career route has not shown progress, or regress, and the Haley mantra of “getting better every day” has never been in evidence with him. Name a skill that Matt Cassel has improved upon since he’s become a starter three years and three games ago.

When you consider that 3rd string QB Ricky Stanzi has better feet than Cassel and 2nd stringer Tyler Palko has more creativity when a play breaks down, then you begin to see that Cassel may not even be the best choice, out of all the players on the current roster, to lead the team.

Some will say… if the Chiefs had Jamaal Charles back and the running game was at full throttle then Cassel would once again be the Pro Bowl QB he was last season. However, this is exactly the issue, if Cassel is not a Pro Bowl QB when Charles is missing, is he really a Pro Bowl QB when he’s there?

Really good players find a way. No matter what. That’s not Matt Cassel.

Some will say we need to fix the offensive line and that once the line is fixed then Cassel will be great. The offensive line has shown their moments of being very good, even this season. The Chiefs are currently ranked 9th in the league in rushing. However, I don’t recall Matt Cassel having any moments of being “very good.” The only time Matt Cassel is good… is when everybody else around him is excelling. It’s a faulty formula. And, Matt’s the one at fault.

Matt Cassel is currently ranked 31st in the league in passing. Below you’ll find a graph showing Matt Cassel’s passer rating history since he first stepped on the field to replace Tom Brady at the beginning of the 2008 season.

 

You can actually see a little bit of consistency during his year with the Patriots but, I think that’s because of the strong support he received on and off the field that year. Since that time there has been nothing consistent about Matt Cassel. You certainly would not say he has progressed. He has also clearly had more games under 90 than above. His variance is crazy. Cassel has had a one game +140 passer rating as well as a 14 (that’s a fourteen) passer rating.

Of course this raises the question of dependability. Cheering for Matt Cassel is a lot like going to Vegas and playing the one-arm bandits. It’s got to be Looney Tunes to actually be a player playing with him. You never know which guy you’re going to get: Jekyll or Hyde.

Still, some will say Charlie Weis worked his magic and that’s the reason Matt’s not doing well now. That may be true but, Charlie isn’t coming back to K.C. any time soon. Not in an OC capacity anyway.

I’m not making a push for the Chiefs to go searching for a college QB. We never have had much “luck” with that in the past. Plus, you can’t plan that far down the road. However, it would be a good time to give our other QB’\s on the roster an opportunity to get some repetitions under their belts and see if there’s anything there that would be worth a shot in the future. Then when the season is over, we’ll know whether or not we need to look to the college pool or free agency or a trade to get someone who is at least the quality of a Kevin Kolb.

Why? Because I believe the Matt Cassel experiment has fizzled in the laboratory. Any more injections of the antidote could mean certain death. Sticking too long with a QB that people have stopped believing in can sour and alienate a team and the fan base.

We fans each reach our breaking point with players that we cheer for. I remember when I reached a break point with Neil Smith. Going to the Broncos was more than I could handle. I recall the time I broke with Priest Holmes. Even after the last time he came back I wanted to believe he could recapture his old glory but, it just wasn’t to be. So, I had to let that hope go.

So, when I say I’m done with Matt Cassel, that’s what I mean. I have no more hope that he’ll be the one. Now, I’ll be waiting for the Chiefs to come to the same conclusion and then do something about it.

Instead of making a list of QBs in the league who are better than Matt Cassel, here’s a smaller list of the only QBs (currently starters) whom I would not prefer to Mr. Cassel.

1. Colt McCoy
I like McCoy but, don’t think he’ll ever be a Drew Brees level performer. His 11 TDs to 11 INTs is disturbing.
2. Rex Grossman
He may be the perfect puppet to run Shanahan’s offense but, I grew up afraid of puppets.
3. Alex Smith
How in the, H-E-double-hockey-sticks, did he ever get drafted el numero uno?
4. Tavaris Jackson
Am wondering if Pete Carrol really knows his business. That’s a statement, not a question.
5. Donovan McNabb
His window closed a while ago.
6. Chad Henne
He never owned a window.

Besides the list of players above, every single other starting QB in the league is someone I’d prefer over Matt Cassel.

Here are my iffy choices:
Jason Campbell (93.8 QB rating with 3 TDs and 1 INT)
Campbell may be having his best year ever and getting a lot of help from a top flight running attack but, it will always be difficult to choose any Raider… over a Chiefs player.
Andy Dalton
His 105.7 QB rating after only two games says a lot about this rookie. What about his orangish-red hair in a Chiefs true-red uniform? Yikes.
Blaine Gabbert
Right now, I would take the unknown intangibles of Gabbert over our messy, washed out, Cassel in the sand.

After 3 years and 3 games, you should see some development, right? Instead, Matt Cassel offers one of the worst yards per attempt rates in the league (5.21 this season). I wonder if any good or strong QB has ever started the first 3 games of the year as badly as Matt Cassel has? Not if they ever wanted to call themselves a good QB.

Cassel’s history of bad performances goes back nine straight games now, including preseason and post season. However, I’m posting 12 games to show that Cassel has had only one excellent game since November of 2010; the game you’ll find highlighted in blue below.

2010 Regular Season
12-5-2010 vs. Broncos- 17 of 31 for 196 yards, 1 TD.
12-12-2010 @ Chargers- DNP (Croyle started).
12-19-2010 @ Rams- 15 of 29 for 184 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
12-26-2010 vs. Titans- 24 of 34 for 314 yards, 3 TDs.
1-2-2011 vs. Raiders- 11 of 33 for 115 yards, 4 sacks, no TDs and 2 INTs.
1-9-2011 vs. Ravens- 9 of 18 for 70 yards, no TDs and 3 INTs.
2011 Preseason
8-12-2011 vs. Bucs- fumbled on his first possession and had no passing attempts.
8-19-2011 @ Ravens- 6 of 14 for 73 yards and a sack.
8-26-2011 vs. Rams- 6 of 13 for 59 yards and a sack.
9-1-2011 @ Packers- 15 of 17 for 129 yards, 1 TD and a sack.
2011 Regular Season
9-11-2011 vs. Bills- 22 of 36 for 119, 1 TD and 1 INT.
9-18-2011 @ Lions- 15 of 22 for 133, 0TDs and 3 INTs.
9-25-2011 @ Chargers- 17 of 24 for 176, 2 TDs, 1 INT.

One of the most telling stats is Matt Cassel’s completion percentage from last season — the season he made the Pro Bowl. During a year in which the Chiefs schedule was the weakest in the NFL, Cassel completed 58.2% of his passes. That ranked him 26th in the league. Yes, 25 other quarterbacks had better passing percentages including Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Brett Favre, who was dancing on his last legs. 41 year old legs.

Accuracy is not one of Matt Cassel’s strong suits.

The Chiefs only converted 37 percent of their third downs last year. That’s bad. Can that be traced to Matt Cassel? It should be. Cassel rates as a very poor pressure performer. Good QBs usually elevate their play in crunch time. That doesn’t describe Matt Cassel. Think about the Ravens game.

Some have suggested that Bill Muir, the new offensive coordinator and play caller, is the problem with the Chiefs right now and, that you could blame Cassel’s difficulties on him. While I do think the OC situation needs to be addressed, apparently Todd Haley doesn’t agree.  On Monday, Coach Haley said, “Bill did a terrific job throughout the game… we do a lot of talking during the week… we did a good job of sticking to the plan.”

Did you notice the we he injected into those sentences? As much as I was disgusted with the play calling on Sunday, it looks like it was exactly what Todd Haley wanted.

But, this is not about one game. Or even just three games. I’m looking at the whole picture that is Matt Cassel. I’m not only interested in his record since he took the field in New England subbing for Tom Brady. I’m interested in how he projects to the future for the Chiefs. What’s his potential? Sad to say but, I believe he’s all tapped out. Is there anything in his performances that would suggest otherwise? I can’t find a thing.

Now, it’s even apparent on his face.

I’ve seen his stunned look on the faces of boxers who are finished, too. They keep coming back… because it’s all they know how to do. In some ways that’s exactly the lion-hearted approach you want an athlete to take. However, a boxer is the only one in the ring and his record is about him alone. Not true for a quarterback. Now, it’s going to be up to someone else to take Cassel out. I hope that’s a coach, not an opponent.

Playing quarterback in the NFL is heady business. We’ve all seen the video tape of Tom Brady’s body at the combine. Obviously, it’s his brain that has made him who is is today. Same for Manning. Ditto, Brees. Three different body types. Three excellent quarterbacks. The similarity? All damn smart. But, you have to remember, the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone. Meaning, when a quarterback has a 350-pound lineman land on him, that experience is logged into this psycho-emotional body and he never forgets it. That’s exactly what happened to Matt Cassel the last game of the preseason. You know, it took Tom Brady a while to step into his throws again following his leg injury.

I don’t believe Matt Cassel can deal emotionally or psychologically… with the physical part of being a QB anymore. It keeps him from doing what must be done mentally to be successful. 

Until now, I have supported Scott Pioli’s decision to bring Matt Cassel to Kansas City and trade a second-round choice to acquire him. Now, it appears that placing Matt Cassel in a Chiefs uniform is another error in judgment that can be added to a growing list of bad decisions on the part of the Chiefs’ current GM.

Saying that Matt Cassel has five INTs and three TDs this season, plus a 65.5 QB rating is just another way of saying, it’s time to go.

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