The Chiefs Must Unleash Matt Cassel

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I can’t begin to tell you how much better it feels to be sitting down to write about the Chiefs following their latest game and not have to talk about another loss. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the win against the now 0-4 Vikings erases the first three games of the season. I’m not saying that I think this team will win nine of its last 12 games and make the playoffs. I will say that it now appears that the Chiefs of 2010 have resurfaced.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Lyle, one win does not mean we’re back in our division winning form from last year!”

However, I would argue that for the last six quarters, the Chiefs have played on par with their overall performance from last season. Especially when you factor in that they are without three MAJOR players from that 2010 team in Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki. I mean, stop and think about what those last six quarters would have looked like if those three players were healthy and playing. To me it seems clear that there were two major problems with the Chiefs to start the season. The first is that Todd Haley’s “outside the box” preseason approach was an EPIC failure that didn’t have the team physically ready for full contact football. The other is that for whatever reason Matt Cassel was playing with training wheels on to start the season that weren’t there in 2010.

Why those training wheels were there is up for debate. Perhaps it was just Cassel not being ready like the rest of the team, and it was all in his head. Maybe it was the loss of Charlie Weis. Maybe it was new offensive coordinator Bill Muir. Maybe new QB coach Jim Zorn has drastically changed Cassel’s approach. Maybe Haley was insisting that he “play it safe” because he lacked faith in the QB. Or maybe, as I’ve already hypothesized, Cassel was much more physically handicapped by the 350-lb Packer that pancaked his ribs at the start of the season than the team let on (note that his YPA has gotten better each week since it happened: 3.3, 6.0, 7.3, 9.0). I don’t know. I do know that in the second half of the SD game where Cassel had to throw the ball deep, he looked better (up until that whole game-losing interception thing), and this week after Haley laid into him for throwing the ball in the grass on third and goal, Cassel once again looked like a completely different QB than in the first 2 1/2 games.

Now I understand that even at his best, Cassel is not an elite QB. Ladner wrote a fantastic piece last week that broke down his inconsistency and weaknesses. I don’t dispute any of that. And yet, I 100-percent believe that as the Chiefs move forward this season, the best thing that they could do is unleash Matt Cassel. Make him the centerpiece of the offense and throw the ball all over the field.

I’ll explain this “crazy talk” after the break.

Todd Haley has been clear since he arrived in Kansas City that his offensive game plan is to establish the run. He believes in controlling the clock, avoiding turnovers, and keeping his defense off the field. His strategy has stayed consistent through multiple offensive coordinators. Use the run to set up the pass and if running the ball isn’t working just keep after it until it does or the Chiefs lose. I believe that the only hope that the Chiefs can salvage the 2011 season is for Haley to change this philosophy.

When the Chiefs put Jamaal Charles on IR the odds of this philosophy providing positive results became very slim. Thomas Jones is horrible; Dexter McCluster is the size of an 8th grader; and Jackie Battle is a third-string special teamer. Yes, the Chiefs can keep this current philosophy and probably eek out 4-5 wins (Indy, Miami, Denver, another home game somewhere along the way). The best case scenario there is 5-11. That is a massive let down after last season, and yet not bad enough to appease the “Suck for Luck” crowd.

So here is what I propose: the Chiefs need to change their offensive philosophy from running to set up the pass to passing to set up the run. If the Chiefs are going to run the ball at all this year they have to stretch defenses out and keep them on their heels. The Chiefs simply do not have the backs or the power O-line to cram the ball down a defense’s throat. The only time the Chiefs have looked even competent on offense has been when Cassel is throwing the ball down the field. Assuming that Jon Baldwin comes back soon, that will mean that three of the Chiefs top four offensive play makers will be WRs (Bowe, Breaston and Baldwin) with the fourth being the shifty change-of-pace back Dexter McCluster who is most effective in a spread attack.

So, it’s time to put the team on Cassel’s back and see what happens. I believe this team has the defensive and offensive play makers to play .500 ball the rest of the way if their QB will just get the ball out to the play makers. So instead of hiding Cassel behind an ineffective run game, let’s turn him loose and see what happens. Is there a good chance that he’ll crumble under the pressure? Maybe, and if so then the Chiefs will finally have an indisputable answer to the question “Can Matt Cassel be our franchise QB?” If it’s REALLY bad then maybe before the year is out they can try out Ricky Stanzi and see how he looks. It seems to me that both Cassel’s few remaining supporters and his harshest critics should be in favor of this game plan. After all, the alternative is more one-yard runs right up the middle on first and second down.

Now just in case anyone still isn’t on board yet, I’ve got the stats to back it up. Since Matt Cassel became the starter in KC, his YPA have been a perfect indicator of the team’s success. Take a look at these numbers. When Cassel averages 7.0 YPA and up the team is 8-3 (72.7 winning percent). When he averages between 6.0-6.9 the team is 5-6 (45.5 winning percent). When he averages under 6.0 YPA the team is 2-11 (15.4 winning percent). So the play-it-safe, dink-and-dunk game doesn’t work. If the team wants to win they have to throw the ball and not just 3-yard check down passes. Throw the ball down the field and see what happens. It’s as simple as that.

I just don’t see an upside to our current offensive approach. I mean, I understand that when you have quick three and outs and turnovers you set up the defense for failure. I just don’t think spreading the ball around the field will lead to more three and outs than running Jones up the middle on first and second down for a total of three yards. Baldwin should be back soon, and Breaston is finding a place in this offense. You combine them with Bowe and you have the weapons for a great passing attack. If that happens, then McCluster will have more space to take advantage of his quickness and be more effective. Even McClain, Jones and Battle will look a little better if defenses are playing back to stop the pass.

Now since I highly doubt that the Chiefs are going to bring me on as an offensive consultant anytime soon it really comes down to Todd Haley. Is he willing to adapt his philosophy and trust Matt Cassel with the ball? And if he does, will Matt Cassel trust himself enough to get the job done. Just in case I think Haley should make a point to yell at Cassel to get him fired up early in each game when Cassel makes a mistake.

I mean who knew that when Matt Cassel said “Come at me, bro!” he was talking to Todd Haley about opening up the offense?

I think its time that Todd Haley did just that.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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