QB Matt Cassel, Detroit Lions
HT: 6-5, WT: 230, Born: 5-17-1982, College: USC, Drafted: Round 7
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If Teddy Bridgewater struggles to make the transition to the NFL, Cassel will be the starting QB on Day 1. His best bet to hold on to the job is to come in and win. At some point though, you have to expect that coach Mike Zimmerman will give him the hook for Bridgewater though, so Cassel’s upside will be very limited. Obviously if Bridgewater sustains a serious injury, Cassel would be the next guy to take over.
Bridgewater comes in and fulfills expectations from Day 1 and plays the entire season. Cassel sees very limited action and finishes the season without starting a game.
With a new coaching staff and a rookie QB, you have to expect that Matt Cassel isn’t going to be Minnesota’s first option when the season starts. The job is basically going to be Bridgewater’s to lose. Even if he struggles, Cassel wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire last season, and you can bet that at some point, Bridgewater will be inserted no matter what.
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2013 Game Summaries
Week 4 - A lot has already been made of the day backup quarterback Matt Cassel had in London but there were a few moments early which, had they fallen slightly differently would have spelled a much different day for Cassel. After three short passes, the last of which was a wildly off target throw in John Carlson’s general direction, Cassel launched a bomb down the sideline for rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor had Patterson well covered, though Patterson was inside on him and between Taylor and Cassel. Cassel’s throw, however, was well over Patterson’s head and almost looked as if it was aimed at Taylor rather than Ponder. Only a nice defensive play by Patterson saved an interception, something which might have changed the course of the game. A short time after, Cassel had a pass batted down at the line by defensive end Cameron Heyward. As bad as that might be, Cassel was lucky it didn’t make it past the line of scrimmage since safety Ryan Clark was haunting Greg Jennings, the intended target. Clark could have very well picked that ball off and not long after, Cassel overthrew Adrian Peterson with a ball that, again, should have been intercepted. However, teams win games when the ball bounces in their favor and that’s how things went for the Vikings. A few plays later, Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a short pass to the left, which Jennings then took an extra 60 yards for a touchdown. It’s one of those plays which reads much differently on the stat-sheet than when it took place. Cassel then threw three straight incomplete passes, including one which Taylor had a chance to intercept again. On the play, Taylor gave Jerome Simpson a decent cushion, making it look as if Cassel had Simpson wide open. When Cassel threw the pass, Taylor was ready, jumped in front of the ball and nearly came up with the interception. Cassel did finally turn the ball over, though it was a fumble on a sack which the Steelers couldn’t hang onto and was recovered by Jerome Simpson. Cassel finally completed another pass (his first since the touchdown to Jennings in the first) with two minutes left in the first half and while the catch was made, Simpson had to jump up to get it, despite being wide open again. Cassel got it right when he found Simpson open again across the middle and hit his receiver in stride, allowing Simpson to have momentum with the catch and gaining an extra 30 yards after the 20 yard throw. Cassel’s second touchdown to Jennings was another really nice throw. On the play, Cassel faked handing off the ball top Adrian Peterson, making the linebackers and safeties hesitate before committing to helping cover a receiver. Cassel then threw a very nice ball to the end zone, where Jennings had inside position on cornerback Cortez Allen. Jennings himself sold Allen on an outside route and the corner was too caught off guard to recover when the receiver broke the route inside instead. Cassel finished the game with six straight completions to help seal the win. Overall, Cassel’s numbers look a lot better than he played. For most of the game, Cassel was inaccurate and a bit erratic. He also had much better play by his offensive line than Christian Ponder. Ponder had been sacked 10 times before Cassel came in this week, and taken 17 QB hits while Cassel was sacked once and, according to ESPN.com, logged no other QB hits. That makes a huge difference and it would have been interesting to see how well Ponder would have fared against the poor defense Cassel faced. Cassel finished the game strong, but against a better defense it isn’t hard to imagine that his numbers would have likely looked much different.
Week 6 - After the last game, the narrative was that Matt Cassel played a solid, efficient game and took good care of the football. The reality was that he got lucky several times and should have had multiple interceptions—a bullet dodged only because Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ike Taylor dropped two easy picks. This week, Cassel didn’t get that lucky, turning the ball over twice. As was the case at times against the Steelers in Week 4, too many of Cassel’s throws sailed or were otherwise off target. This week it cost them as the Carolina Panthers took both turnovers and rolled down the field for touchdowns. On the first interception, Cassel was aiming for Greg Jennings but overthrew him by a huge margin and the ball was caught instead by Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. The second interception was also aimed in Jennings’ general direction but too high and too far, only to be caught by Mitchell again. Cassel threw a ton of shorter passes and had good accuracy on them, including a pretty lob to the corner of the end zone meant for tight end Kyle Rudolph during which Rudolph just couldn’t get both feet in for the touchdown. He did also suffer through a couple of drops, including one deep across the middle which Jerome Simpson was guilty of. Then again, Simpson was almost destroyed on a throw that was too high and too far behind for him to make the catch and left him out to dry had the defender chose to hit him. It was clear after the team acquired Josh Freeman that Cassel was probably not viewed as a long term answer by the franchise and after Sunday, it really looks like he is just keeping the seat warm for the former Buccaneer.
Week 10 - Cassel came in at the start of the fourth quarter in place of the injured Christian Ponder. For a guy coming in cold off the bench, Cassel played well. He showed great accuracy hitting Jerome Simpson in stride up the sideline for a 25-yard gain. The Washington defender had safety help over the top but Cassel got the ball there quickly before the safety could come over and make a play. Overall he did a fair job holding the fort and showed why he can be a solid backup for a team.
Week 11 - After a horrendous pick-six by starter Christian Ponder, head coach Leslie Frazier tapped backup Matt Cassel. The former Kansas City Chiefs starter wasn’t really all that much better and managed to turn the ball over as well. On that play, Cassel was trying to throw to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson on a screen, but didn’t see defensive end Chris Clemons beat left tackle Matt Kalil. Cassel threw the ball almost right into Clemons’ hands and he batted the ball up into the air, where it landed in defensive tackle Clinton McDonald’s hands. Overall Cassel didn’t look appreciably better than Christian Ponder and doesn’t seem to be an answer for the offense going forward.
Week 13 - For a guy coming in off the bench, cold and without the heavy reps a starter gets in practice, Matt Cassel looked sharp. It took him a little while to warm up, but he threw two straight first-down passes to receiver Greg Jennings before missing a wide open John Carlson. Cassel redeemed himself with a solid pass to Carlson for a big gain a minute later, then tried to run the ball in for a touchdown on a 3rd and goal chance but he was absolutely stonewalled at the 1 yard lines—before the play was negated due to an offensive holding penalty. Cassel ran very hot and cold during the day. When he planted his feet and stepped into the throw, he delivered a nice ball for his receivers but when he was pressured (real pressure or phantom), he almost tended to catapult the ball, which made his passes sail high or wide. The ball also never seems to leave his hand quickly—his passes tend to look sluggish and often it appears as if the defenders have too much time to close on receivers, save for the moments when they are wide open. On one of his better passes, he hit Jennings for an 8-yard touchdown. On the play, Cassel was forced to scramble to his right. He did a good job of keeping his eyes downfield, and so he saw when Jennings got a step on Bears cornerback Isiah Frey. Cassel delivered the ball where only Jennings could catch it and the receiver did a great job making sure both of his feet were in bounds when he secured the ball. Cassel should have had a second touchdown—or at least one less interception—on a throw to tight end Rhett Ellison in the late fourth quarter. On the play, Ellison ran a short slant towards the end zone. Cassel quickly delivered a pass to Ellison, hitting the tight end in the hands. Ellison bobbled the ball and it got away from him, landing in the hands of linebacker Khaseem Greene, who returned it to the 50-yard line. Cassel then fumbled a snap which was a little low, but definitely something he should have come up with. In overtime, Cassel got the Vikings into range of a game-winning field goal not once, but twice. The first time the score was negated by an Ellison facemask penalty, which pushed the team out of field goal range, while the second was successful. On both drives, Cassel did a good job of staying cool under the pressure and delivering key throws. One was a 17-yard pass to Jennings for a first down while Cassel was hit and the second was what should have been at least a 16-yard reception by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, but the rookie didn’t hold on.
Week 14 - Despite the fact that it was snowing heavily and footing was slippery, the Vikings had quarterback Matt Cassel throwing the ball frequently early on in the game. While the conditions were far from optimal, Cassel did a fair job, completing 10 of 21 attempts for 114 yards. The reverse was true later in the game. With Adrian Peterson out and the footing more sure, the Baltimore defense was able to clamp down on receivers more and bring more pressure as well. The result was just 7 catches on 17 attempts and at least three balls that could have—perhaps should have—been picked off. Even though he struggled more in the second half, Cassel managed to throw two touchdowns. On the first, near the start of the fourth quarter, Cassel threw a nice pass to Jerome Simpson at the back of the end zone. Simpson did a great job getting separation from the coverage and Cassel tossed a strike to his receiver for a score. The second was almost all one the back of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson who took a short screen 79-yards for a score. Overall, Cassel did a solid, if unspectacular, job and has proven to be a decent backup.
Week 15 - Matt Cassel began the game with eight straight completions—suffice to say he was locked into his receivers and remained so for most of the day. He did a fairly good job of consistently throwing his receivers open or at least putting the ball where they could make a play and while he had a few poor or off-target passes, he played well even when the Philadelphia Eagles were able to get pressure. Both touchdowns were excellent examples of this. His first, a 57-yard bomb to Greg Jennings, took a while to develop. Cassel had defenders swarming around him and even had to duck one before he saw Jennings break open. When his receiver got a step or two on the coverage, Cassel threw a beautiful pass, leading his receiver and hitting him in stride so Jennings could trot into the end zone for an easy score. His second was a 5-yartd pass to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. Unlike the bomb to Jennings, this was far from a perfect pass for a fade route, but with Patterson fairly well covered, Cassel adjusted and threw to his back shoulder, where the rookie would either catch it or it would be deflected—it was not getting picked off. The one huge mistake was the interception he threw in the 3rd quarter with just a 1:30 seconds to go. The pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but it seemed to come out of Cassel’s hand way too low. Further linebacker Mychal Kendricks was directly in the passing lane. If Cassel was going to try and sneak it by Kendricks—a dicey choice to begin with—he needed more air under the ball when it left his hand. Even without the tip, it’s hard to imagine the ball was going to get to his intended target. Overall, though, Cassel did a great job and showed promising chemistry with his receivers.
Week 16 - It’s probably time for whomever was holding onto the “Matt Cassel could be the Vikings quarterback in 2014” storyline to drop it. Cassel was abysmal against a tough Cincinnati Bengals defense, throwing three picks which should never have happened. The first was a terribly underthrown ball to a wide open Jerome Simpson who had to stop to wait for the ball, allowing two defenders to catch up with the play. There was some contact (Simpson was complaining after the play) and the ball bounced off of cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick’s head and into safety George Iloka’s hands. Underthrown balls are something we’ve seen a lot of this season from Cassel, as are balls thrown when a linebacker is in the passing lane but Cassel fails to see him. That happened late in the fourth quarter when Cassel was again trying to find Simpson. Not only was the ball underthrown again, linebacker Rey Maualuga was right there in the way. It’s unfathomable that Cassel didn’t see that Maualuga was there and if he did and thought he would beat him, he needed to make a decent pass, which this was not. The other interception—and probably the worst in terms of momentum-killing—was a pick-six in the second quarter which put the Bengals up 21-7. On the play, Greg Jennings ran a short “button” route off the line. The Vikings ran out three receivers into the exact same area—one assumes hoping the defense would be out-manned three to two. Unfortunately, it’s very clear that linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey knew what was going on as they loudly and thoroughly made adjustments and tipped their defense off. Perhaps they were bluffing, but the fact that defensive end Michael Johnson immediately dropped into coverage seems to indicate they weren’t. Cassel either didn’t catch their antics (hard to believe) or didn’t care and then compounded the issue by staring down Jennings the entire route. It was simple for Rey to step in front of Jennings (again, stunning that Cassel didn’t see this coming), intercept the ball and take it to the house. What’s even more mind-boggling is that Cassel had the perfect outlet in Adrian Peterson, who was wide open on a drag route across the middle. A good quarterback would have seen the defense reacting and either changed the play and hit his open receiver or at least looked off the defense. Cassel failed miserably, as he did frequently on Sunday.
Week 17 - Sunday featured the same set of issues for Cassel which have frustrated Vikings fans during every start. If he’s not staring his receivers down, he’s having balls batted at the line. Looking at Sunday’s game again, his occasionally very low release point and constant short-arming of passes really stood out as he had multiple batted balls and low passes. Staring down the receiver is what got him picked off in the end zone during the early minutes of the second quarter. On the play, he faked a handoff to Matt Asiata, and then looked up towards Jerome Simpson. He never looked off the defense, never did anything but focus on Simpson. Of course, he didn’t see Lions safety Louis Delmas standing in the way because he was so locked onto Simpson. The pass never should have left his hand. He did do a good job on his one touchdown pass, though a lot of the success of that catch was because Cordarrelle Patterson did a great job using his body to ward off the defender. Once he got into the end zone, he blocked the defender off and Cassel had an easy time delivering the ball. On the positive side, Cassel did a fantastic job of delivering the ball to Greg Jennings in the third quarter while under pressure. He stood in the pocket and waited for the play to form even though it meant he was going to get hit. Overall, Cassel had some good moments, but his flaws continue to be an issue. He’s an OK backup, but isn’t someone a team wants under center long term.