All preseason, whenever I heard news about the New England Patriots, it seemed that the experts were trashing some dude named Matt Cassel.
Cassel, I eventually learned, was Tom Brady’s backup QB.
If you’re not from Boston, New York, DC, Dallas, Chicago or LA, you know that this is how it works. Your own team’s starting QB could be in danger of missing all the rest of the seasons forever because he came down with the flesh-eating virus and ESPN and NFL Network would rather spend their time talking about Tom Brady’s backup, some guy named Cassel who hadn’t started a football game since high school.
Since I was always being bombarded with the typical ESPN love affair with the major markets, I didn’t give this Cassel kid much thought.
At least not until Bernard Pollard flung himself into the side of Tom Brady’s leg.
In a bar in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, surrounded by a couple of my closest friends, a couple of the most loyal Chiefs fans I know, I jumped to my feet, beer in hand. I jumped up to jeer.
I remembered this guy! He sucks. He’s a bum. He looked terrible in the preseason! He hasn’t started a game since high school! Slap my ass and call me Charlie, this Herm Edwards youth movement might actually work out!
“Let’s see what ya got Matt Cassel,” was what I called out to the TV hanging perilously above the bar.
Three plays later, Cassel tossed a bomb to Randy Moss that wiped the smile off my face relatively quickly. Shortly thereafter, Herm Edwards’ “youth movement” landed Herm on ESPN talking about the big market teams and landed some dude named Matt Cassel in Kansas City.
Oh cruel, ironic world.
I’m nothing if not devoted to my team so I quickly discarded my disdain for this Cassel fella and ordered myself a brand new white #7 jersey from some sweatshop in China.
The Cassel odyssey began in Kansas City and it wasn’t pretty. An offensive line that couldn’t block a peewee football team and a collection of scrapheap receivers turned the new franchise QB into target practice for NFL defensive lineman and linebackers. In fact, it only took the line a couple of preseason games to get Cassel injured, shelving him for the opener against the Baltimore Ravens. As a sacrifice to the Football Gods, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley offered up Brody Croyle. The Gods were not amused and refused the “gift”, allowing Croyle, who once landed on IR after blinking to forcefully, to escape the game uninjured.
Year two of the Cassel era brought home an AFC Championship and a trip to the Pro Bowl for Matt Cassel. The 2009 haters became the 2010 doubters while the 2009 doubters became the 2010 believers. And of course, the 2009 believers became the 2010 homers. All was right in the land of BBQ and Boulevard. This could work.
I was firmly in the doubter to believer category. I’d seen enough of Cassel to know the guy could play well if most everything else went right. I knew he wasn’t likely ever to be in the Tom Brady, Peyton Manning Level but after a thrilling 10-6 season and early playoff exit, I wasn’t sure he’d have to be. Why, with some more support, mainly in the form of receivers, 2011 would be the year the Chiefs got their long lost playoff victory.
Only it didn’t go that way at all. I’ll spare you the recap of what I am now hoping we all look back and call “The Lost Season.” The best case scenario will be that 2011 was but a bump in Dynasty Road.
One can dream.
Before I head to the closet to dust off that white #7 jersey this August, I decided to go out on a hope mission. Andrew Luck, RGIII, Peyton Manning, all my delusions of grandeur are now just delusions. With nowhere to turn, I figure I must now look back to that Matt Cassel dude and hope that there is something there that I missed. Some shred of hope. Maybe, just maybe, Matt Cassel will turn into Trent Green.
Or at least the 2011 version of Alex Smith.
My first stop was AA senior staff writer Big Matt. Big Matt, also my co-host on AA Radio, is always the guy I go to if I feel like I might be slowly going insane. Ten minutes with this guy and you’ll walk out feeling saner than the sanest person you’ve ever met. You’ll also walk out slightly high and smelling of baby powder but trust me, it’s worth it.
Hey, don’t judge, riding the Matt Cassel roller coaster can take its toll so it is so its always better to ride with a friend.
To determine if my mixed feelings of hope and despair were normal or not, I asked Big Matt about what his expectations were when Cassel was traded to Kansas City.
"“I thought the Cassel trade was solid, much like everyone else,” he said. “ I didn’t expect him to be great, but I hoped he might be good. Trent Green was my benchmark.”"
Trent Green! Ok, so my expectations weren’t too outside the box.
But what about now. What about Cassel/Daboll 2012?
"“Cassel and Daboll……hard to be real impressed by either,” said Big Matt. “But they both have a lot to work with, and I’d be surprised to see them fail Croyle/Solari style. Give me an offense that tries to score points, and I’ll be happy. Expecting 15th ranked, thereabouts.”"
The most infuriating thing about Big Matt is that he always so laid back. Sometimes I think he’d tell me about an attempt on his life in the exact same tone that he’d tell me he bought the newspaper.
15th? That’s not good is it? Or is it? It’s better than last year, right? With a good defense…maybe…or am I just making excuses. Moreover, have we all been making excuses for Cassel all along? Shouldn’t he have been good enough to make it work with Bobby Wade? Isn’t that what franchise QB’s do? Should he have been able to rally the troops when Jamaal and Berry went down in 2011 or was he just a victim of the Todd Haley/Scott Pioli Middle-Aged Rich White Dude Power Struggle Olympics?
The questions about Cassel are too numerous to count. Was it Charlie Weis that was responsible for his 2010 season? Is he at fault for 2011 or was his problem Todd Haley’s whacky preseason plan. How much did the loss of Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki impact him? What about the departure of Brian Waters? Can he only play well against weaker defenses?
How is there any way to know?
Looking for more answer, I turned to Brian Miller, editor of FanSided’s Miami Dolphins site Phin Phanatic.
Cassel’s new coordinator, Brian Daboll, held the same position in Miami last year. It was a turbulent season in South Beach that saw the head coached fired. Early on, the team looked terrible. They lost their first seven games and came to Arrowhead Stadium on the first place, 4-3 Kansas City Chiefs.
The Dolphins stomped the Chiefs 31-3, using explosive offensive attack featuring QB Matt Moore.
Miami would go on to finish 6-3 in their final nine games.
So Brian, Daboll is a genius who turned Matt Moore and the entire Dolphins offense around, right?
"“Last season the Miami Dolphins brought in Brian Daboll to run their offense. How did that impact the play of the team and specifically the turnaround of Matt Moore? It’s hard to point to one specific thing that Brian Daboll did last season and even harder to dissect the teams success in six of the last 9 games. The biggest issue at trying to determine if the success was a result of Daboll or Moore or a combination of the two, is simply this. The Dolphins were not playing for anything but pride.”"
Damn it Brian! That makes too much sense! Look, Cassel and Moore are similar QB’s, right? So it stands to reason if Moore turned in an 87.1 QB rating when his career rating is 80.1 that Cassel might see the same kind of success in Daboll’s system, right?
"“In the two years that Matt Moore has started in the NFL, he has never been in a position to lead a team from start to finish with expectations of a playoff berth. He has never shouldered the burden of leading a team on his shoulders to wins that counted for something more than simply pride. Last season was no different. By the time the Dolphins began their turnaround, they were already out of the playoffs for all intent and purposes. Moore was able to play more freely and take chances that he may not otherwise have taken.”"
Ok, Ok, I get it, Moore was playing lose but what about Daboll?
"“The same could be said about Brian Daboll. His game management of the offense was one that also allowed him to take risks that he simply didn’t take earlier in the season. Whether that is a result of “fighting to keep his job” or simply a matter of the team finally coming together, we don’t know. A lot of Miami’s issues last season can be attributed to the lockout. It’s not an excuse as the team began an entirely new offensive system and the lack of off-season work hurt the team.”"
Any good news?
"“Some will argue that the team began to succeed when the grasp of Daboll’s offense was finally realized. Albeit too late. The argument does have merit. Early in the season Daboll called a much different game than he did following the 8th week. He gradually began to install more open field plays and was able to get his players more involved in the scheme as well. Part of this issue was the fact that early on, he was without his FB Charles Clay and his starting RB Daniel Thomas. Still, even towards the end of the season with Reggie Bush playing very well, Daboll failed to find a way to get both players on the field at the same time.Another issue is Brandon Marshall who early on in the season was blatantly begging for the ball in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage and more often than not, the team would look his way. Some would say to keep him from becoming a problem.By the end of the season, many Dolphins fans believed that Daboll had shown enough to warrant another season under the right new coach. His playbook is extensive but he never had the time to implement it fully in Miami. The lockout took a toll, the 0-8 start took a toll, and of course he lost his job at the end of the season. The conundrum here is this. Matt Moore showed fans enough late last season under Daboll to warrant half of the fans saying he will do and that reaching for a QB in either FA or the draft is not worth it while the other half believe he is not someone that will lead this team.It’s very difficult from one season to ascertain if Moore’s success was Daboll’s doing or whether Moore is a budding NFL QB. I personally maintain that until they play with the weight of having to win instead of playing for pride rears it’s head, we simply don’t know enough of what either are capable of or how much one influenced the other. I do however think that Daboll is going to be a good offensive coordinator and in KC it’s a perfect situation. Unlike in Miami he will have time to implement the scheme and system, an off-season to get his players up to speed, and more importantly talent at the right positions to make it work.Matt Cassell will likely perform better with Daboll as an OC as the system itself is wide-open and uses the field to it’s advantage. I think that in this style of play, Chiefs fans are going to know by week 4 whether or not Cassell is their QB or not. This system isn’t difficult but it is volumes of information and is designed to help the QB play better. To what degree? It’s too hard to say given the restrictions Daboll faced last year and what Matt Moore was unable to accomplish in his first few games when the team still lost.”"
Maybe it isn’t just me. Brian just watched a full 16 games of Daboll’s offense and even he isn’t exactly sure what the hell was going on. It makes me feel a bit better after watching three years of Matt Cassel and being utterly bewildered about it.
Matt Cassel has gone 11-5, 4-11, 10-5 and 4-5 since that day in the bar when I so eagerly jumped to my feet to make fun of him. Since that day’s he’s caused me to buy his jersey, call him a bum, call him a Pro Bolwer, call him a bum again, call him “Zombie Cassel” and then a bum again.
Maybe the Matt Cassel Scale only goes from terrible to extremely efficient. Maybe most of the time it lands somewhere in the middle.
I’m really not sure.
But I do know the Matt Cassel Odyssey certainly has been entertaining. And like any good odyssey, it’s going on a bit longer than it probably should.
More than likely, Matt Cassel is going to be the guy for the Chiefs in 2012. I’ve decided that rather than pull all my hair out or spend another night sleeping in Big Matt’s basement, I’m just going to pull that #7 jersey out of my closet, have it dry cleaned, and strap in for the ride.
Because who knows? I’ve got just as good a chance of predicting how this season will turn out as I do winning the Power Ball tonight.
It’s a new team, new coach, new coordinator and a new year.
Let’s see what ya got Matt Cassel.