Chiefs' QB Conundrum

With RG3’s sterling reputation even shinier after this week’s NFL Combine, the question about what the Chiefs should do at quarterback will only get hotter as the April 26th draft looms closer. About a billion draft and trade scenarios are being discussed on the blogs right now. Let’s examine the three, most-talked about options to solve the Chiefs’ quarterback situation:

  • Keep Cassel: The safe bet. Cassel is a good quarterback, but not a great one. But he’s no Tyler Palko or Brodie Croyle either. And there’s a host of quarterbacks that fall into the “safe bet” category for their teams, like Joe Flacco or Jay Cutler.
  • Draft RG3: The classic high-risk/high-reward scenario, this year embodied in RG3 and Andrew Luck. It worked last year with Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Has it failed in the past? Let’s see: Todd Blackledge, Jamarcus Russell, Akili Smith and Chief fans’ all-time favorite, Ryan Leaf.
  • Get Peyton: The rent-a-Hall-of-Famer move is a tried-and-true formula. Peyton Manning could be this year’s version of Brett Favre, Joe Montana and others.

In reality, I could make an argument for Cassel, RG3 or Peyton, and would genuinely be happy with any of them. When protected, Cassel has shined. RG3 may well be a game-changer of epic proportion. And two or three years of Peyton would put us deep into the playoffs each year. But if I were GM for a day, I would have two criteria for the Chiefs to make this choice.

First, which QB makes the most sense in the Chiefs’ current evolutionary path towards sustainable greatness, like the Steelers, Patriots, Packers and others are on? And second, which QB increases the Chiefs’ ability to be more unpredictable to give them a competitive advantage, as we discussed a few weeks ago?

One of my favorite lessons in this evolving characteristic of unpredictability was from Eli Manning, Hakim Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, captured nicely in this article about their offense:

Explained very simply, [Eli] Manning has the ability to change the play to almost anything in that week’s game plan, based on what he sees in the defensive alignment. And when he calls a pass play, the receivers have several options to change their routes on each play, depending on what the defense does. It’s complicated and hard to learn, and it can be very tricky for the quarterback and receiver to make sure they’re seeing exactly the same thing out of each defender…

…“I’ve been in offenses where it’s all based on progressions – 1, 2, 3, find the back,” [backup quarterback David] Carr adds. “There’s some of that. But we’re trying to scheme. We’re trying to find the best possible play vs. that defense at that time to just gash them. That’s why it works.”

Kevin Glibride, the Giants’ offensive coordinator, is one of the architects of this evolution in offensive unpredictability. His passing offense relies on instinctual, split-second decisions built upon the trust derived from thousands of hours of habit-forming repetition, real game situations and evaluation. If Manning and Nicks don’t know where Nicks’ route will end up until he runs it, how can the defense know? Once honed, this offensive mindset adds the element of uncertainty to a defensive back or linebacker, which I believe gives the offense a small but critical advantage. The system is predictable only in that we know that its component parts (i.e. the routes that receivers run) are highly unpredictable.

For the Chiefs then, which quarterback best fits our team’s evolutionary stage towards sustainable greatness, and which quarterback would flourish under this system of strategic unpredictability?

For Clark’s money, I’m going to go with…Matt Cassel.

Yes, that’s right, and here’s why. First, I believe the Chiefs have been built to win in 2012. The defense – with Tamba, Derrick, Flowers, Berry – is there. The offense – with Jamaal, Moeaki, McCluster, Bowe, Breaston and Baldwin – are ready for prime time. There are a small number of important gaps to fill, primarily on the offensive line with this year’s draft, but I believe we have the talent to win, now. The challenge for the Chiefs is whether the talent can consistently produce results, which leads me to my second reason.

The secret to success for Eli Manning, Hakim Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham was, plain and simple, hard work and tons of on-the-field playing time with one another. It seems counterintuitive, but the ability to be unpredictable relies upon repetition. Cassel is the only one of our three QB options who has that experience with our set of receivers and lineman. We’ve all seen Cassel shine, when he’s in sync with his receivers and when he’s getting protection. If the Chiefs were where the Lions were three years ago – explicitly starting a major rebuilding process – then I’d go RG3 hands down. But we’re a lot closer to competitiveness than the Lions were three years ago. We have a young, talented group of playmakers, and I think that Cassel, building upon his growing rapport and trust with his receivers, could make his 2010 Pro Bowl year the norm, not the aberration.

I know RG3 will be successfully unpredictable as a player – he’s fast and can throw the ball a mile so individually, he’s unpredictable – but Cassel gives the Chiefs’ offensive system the best chance to be unpredictable because of the repetition he and his receivers have spent hours developing already. And within that offensive system, I believe you most want players who fulfill specific roles, and fulfill them well. Bowe’s primary job is to catch. Jamaal’s primary job is to run. And the quarterback’s primary job is to pass the ball and orchestrate the system.

Malcolm Gladwell, in the Outliers, describes what helps to create mastery: amassing more than 10,000 hours of practice. That’s part of what made Bill Gates great as a programmer and the Beatles great as musicians. While this theory certainly has flaws, there is a common sense value to it. In football terms, 10,000 hours, at about 8 hours a day, is right around 4 years. Cassel and Bowe will be starting their fourth season together in 2012.

What do you think, Addicts? Which QB option best fits the Chiefs’ evolutionary path right now, and could give the offense the element of unpredictability?

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