You have to have a good quarterback to win in today’s NFL.
Matt Cassel is not a good quarterback.
Therefore, the Kansas City Chiefs can not win in today’s NFL.
That is the thought process of a lot of people out there when it comes to the Chiefs these days. You can find this line of thinking all over. Most casual NFL fans would agree with this. Many of the national media members agree with this, specifically Yahoo’s Michael Silver who recently ranked KC 28th in his post-draft power rankings. Finally, here amongst KC fans there are many Matt Cassel critics as well.
I’m not here to argue that Matt Cassel is a great quarterback. A great quarterback can lift his team to wins despite the limitations of the roster around him. Matt Cassel has shown that he’s not that guy. What he has shown is that when the team around him is good, he is good enough to win games. The problem is, KC fans aren’t just content with some regular season wins. What they really want is playoff success. It’s been FAR too long since KC won a playoff game and was seen as a force in the AFC. Ultimately, what every fan wants is to believe that their team has a chance to win a Super Bowl.
That is where many KC fans lose hope. If you look at the last nine Super Bowls, they were all won by QBs that will likely end up in Canton some day. In order from the most recent, they are Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli again, Peyton Manning, Big Ben again*, and Tom Brady twice. You have to go back 10 years to Tampa Bay winning with Brad Johnson to find a Super Bowl winner with a “game manager” at the most important position on the field.
*One could argue that Big Ben was a game manager in his first Super Bowl win where his defense carried him.
The general view seems to be that the days where you can win with an elite run game, a top 10 defense, and a “game manager” at QB are long gone. The game has moved more toward a passing league. So when some look at the Chiefs trying to win games with the strengths of their team being the run game and defense, they see a team that is doomed to fail in today’s game.
That having been said, there are definitely people that feel otherwise as well. Many KC fans (myself included), and even a few in the national media think the non-QB talent on this roster is good enough to overcome Matt Cassel’s limitations. As someone that has been labeled as a “homer” and a “Kool-Aid drinker” on more than one occasion I decided I needed something to back up my beliefs. So here’s what I did:
I looked over the statistics of the past five seasons. I only did five years because I wanted the results to be reflective of the new “pass happy” NFL. I looked over all five seasons (2007-2011) and found all the teams that finished the year ranked in the top 10 in rushing yards and defensive points allowed. I then looked at these teams’ records, how many passing yards/game they averaged, and how these teams did in the playoffs.
Before I go over the results, I should probably state that this entire piece is based on the premise that KC can finish in the top 10 in both rushing yards and points allowed. The Chiefs were #1 in the NFL in rushing just two years ago. Last year, with no Jamaal Charles, lots of Thomas Jones carries, and Barry Richardson starting at RT the Chiefs still finished ranked 15th. So basically, if JC returning and the additions of Peyton Hillis and Eric Winston can help the Chiefs average just 10 more yards per game then the Chiefs will be back in the top 10.
What about the defense? Well, last season KC allowed 21.1 PPG which ranked them 12th in the NFL. However, over the last eight games they only allowed 17.1 PPG which would have been good for fourth in the NFL. Even if you just take out the first two games, they still averaged only 17.8 PPG over weeks 3-17, which would have been good for fifth in the NFL last season. Now the Chiefs defense did allow those points. You can’t just dismiss those first two games, but between Todd Haley’s failed preseason conditioning plan and the let down of losing their two most talented players in those first two games, I think it is still realistic to think that the KC defense can play at the same level they did over the second half of last season. That should put them safely in the top 10 of points allowed.
So now that we’ve established that KC is a good bet to finish in the top 10 in rushing and points allowed, what can we expect that to translate to in terms of wins?
Here’s what recent history tells us.
Over the past five seasons there have been 21 teams that finished the year ranked in the top 10 in both of those categories. Of those 21 teams, NONE of them had a losing record. Four teams finished 8-8, but the other 17 teams had a winning record. The average number of wins for those 21 teams was about 10.3 wins. 15 of the 21 teams made the playoffs, that’s 71 percent. Of the six teams that didn’t make the playoffs, two of them still had 10 or more wins.
So even in today’s NFL, if you are good at running the ball and not allowing points, you usually win 10 or more games and make the playoffs. That’s good news for KC fans.
At this point, some of you probably have two main questions.
“Okay, so those teams ran the ball well and played defense well, but did they have good a QB too?”
“Okay, so those teams made the playoffs, but did they win any games when they got there?”
I’m glad you asked.
Let’s start with the latter. Of the 15 teams that made the playoffs, 10 of them won at least one game, that’s about 67 percent. Six of those 15 made it to the conference championship game, that’s still 40 percent. So 71 percent of the teams that finish in the top 10 in rushing and points allowed make the playoffs and 40 percent of those teams make it to the conference championship game? I’ll take those odds.
So how about the question of what kind of QB play were these 21 teams getting? I mean surely these teams that made the playoffs and went on to the conference title game had to have better QBs than Matt Cassel, right? Well, let’s look at the numbers.
The average passing yards/game for these 21 teams was just 201.7 yards per game.
Matt Cassel’s yards per game average since he took over for Tom Brady four years ago is about 208 yards per game.
“Okay, Graversen, but how many yards did the teams from that group that made the playoffs average?”
That would be 196.5 yards per game.
“Okay, how about just the teams that won playoff games?”
That would be 202 yards per game.
“Okay fine, but how about those six teams that went to the conference championship game?”
That would actually be the lowest passing yards per game of all at 185.3 yards/game.
So Matt Cassel has already put up passing numbers equal to or better than the QBs that have taken teams to the conference championship game on the backs of both a top 10 running game and defense.
I know, some of you are still not convinced.
“Passing yards are meaningless! Cassel is too inaccurate and can’t throw the long ball. That is where he falls short compared to the other QBs on your list!”
Had I not looked up the numbers, I might have bought that argument. Here’s what I found…
The six QBs to take their team to the conference title game in the past five years with a top run game/defense are Alex Smith in 2011, Joe Flacco in 2011 and 2008, Mark Sanchez in 2010 and 2009, and Philip Rivers in 2007.
Here are the numbers they put up in those perspective seasons and also Cassel’s averages for his career:
So for his career, Matt Cassel is right in line with these QBs. If they could do it, so can Cassel. It’s also interesting to note that Rivers’ numbers are actually one of the worst of his career, but they still made it farther in the playoffs that year than any other time since because they had a solid run game and defense.
Now, I will concede the one argument about Cassel and these QBs that I can’t defend.
“The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl and none of these teams did that.”
That’s true, of the 21 teams that finished the year in the top 10 for rushing and scoring defense, none of them won or even made it to a Super Bowl. That having been said, how long has it been since we won a playoff game? I’ll say it again. The odds say that if the Chiefs finish in the top 10 in both those areas, they have a 71 percent chance of making the playoffs and if they do, a 40 percent chance of making it to the AFC title game.
If you do the math, that means that about 28.6 percent of teams that have finished in the top 10 in both rushing and points allowed in recent years make it to the conference title game.
I’ll take that right now.
You have to learn to walk before you can run and at this point, I’ll take walking with Matt Cassel as opposed to just sitting around and doing nothing until we find a new QB.
If you’re a die hard stat nerd (like myself), here is a chart that shows all 21 teams that I’ve been referencing for this piece. It shows the teams by season, their rankings in rushing, points allowed, passing, their record that season, and their record in the playoffs that year if they made it.
An * in the record column means they made the playoffs. ** means they won their division. An * in the playoff record column means that they made it to the conference title game.
I understand that all KC fans wish that the Chiefs had an elite level QB. However, recent history says that a team with a great run game and a great defense will not only make the playoffs, but win some games when they get there. The track record is there and all Cassel has to do is just play at the level he has in the past. I think you can make a strong case that his supporting cast this coming season will be the best he’s had since he played for the Patriots. This should give all KC fans hope for the coming season.
Cassel fan or not, things are looking up in KC.
As always, thanks for reading and GO, CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!