Spotlight: Matt Cassel

posted by Anthony Borbely on Jul 5th


Anthony Borbely's thoughts

As the 2010 season approaches, there are more questions than answers regarding Matt Cassel. After a season-ending knee injury to Tom Brady in the first game of the 2008 season, Cassel stepped in and had a tremendous year. As soon as the season ended, many people were questioning whether Cassel was really that good or whether his play in 2008 had more to do with the system he played in. He struggled last year and the questions remain. I think the answer lies somewhere in between.

Let's take a quick look at Cassel's stats in 2008 with New England and 2009 with Kansas City:

Year Comps Atts PassYds YPAtt TDs INTs
2008 327 516 3693 7.2 21 11
2009 272 494 2924 5.9 16 16

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice the drop-off in Cassel's numbers nor does it take one to realize the difference in the supporting casts Cassel played with. Cassel was throwing passes to Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2008, then to Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers in 2009. Cassel's numbers predictably dropped. Below are the overall numbers of the Patriots' WRs in 2008 and the Chiefs' WRs in 2009:

Year Team WRTrgts Recs Targ% Yds TDs
2008 Patriots 356 227 64% 2745 16
2009 Chiefs 366 183 50% 2322 13

It is an understatement to say that the target percentages stick out like a sore thumb. When your WRs can only catch half of the passes thrown their way, it is a major problem for the offense and the QBs numbers are going to suffer.

It is easy to look at the numbers above and see that there were major differences between the offenses of the 2008 Patriots and the 2009 Chiefs. Now comes the hard part; trying to determine how much of the above was directly related to the performance of Cassel and how much was due to other factors.

So why did Cassel's numbers decline so much from 2008 to 2009?

Reason #1: Weapons

I already mentioned this one. It is plain as day that there is a huge difference throwing to the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker and then throwing to the Chiefs' WRs. Moss and Welker can separate and make plays. Dwayne Bowe can as well, but not on a consistent basis. Chris Chambers, who joined the Chiefs in week nine, was an improvement over the other Kansan City WRs, but that really is not saying much. The Chiefs' other WRs included Bobby Wade, Mark Bradley, and Lance Long. That group does not inspire much confidence. Bowe and Chambers only played a combined 20 games with the Chiefs last year, so the other WRs played much more than they should have. There were 12 games where the Chiefs had to start someone other than Bowe or Chambers and that had a huge effect on Cassel's numbers.

Reason #2: Cassel himself

While the change in weapons had a lot to do with the decline in Cassel's numbers, it was not the only reason. Cassel has to take a large share of the blame. He simply did not play well. Cassel's decision making was horrendous at times. Cassel's numbers were terrible when the Chiefs were in their own territory. He threw nine interceptions from his own side of the 50-yard-line and we all know how demoralizing that can be for a team. It is tough enough to play defense on a short field, but even worse when your defense is one of the worst in the league like the Chiefs' defense. Cassel also played his worst in close games, throwing only four TD passes compared to nine interceptions. In order for the Chiefs offense to play better, these numbers have to improve.

Reason #3: Playing from behind

This one is not difficult to figure out. It is much tougher to throw the ball when defenses know you have to. They simply drop back in zones and dare you to throw. The Chiefs lacked weapons in the passing game and coupled with Cassel's poor decision making; it made it virtually impossible for the Chiefs to be in situations where they could run a balanced offense. Any time a QB is forced to throw the ball, it usually results in more turnovers, especially when the team lacks a consistent QB and WRs that can separate and catch the ball.

Reason #4: Too many sacks allowed

The Chiefs allowed 45 sacks, which was the sixth highest in the league. There is simply no way you can win when you cannot protect the QB. When looking at the top ten teams in sacks allowed, the Packers were the only one to make the playoffs and most of the ten teams were among the league's worst. The Chiefs had a porous offensive line and receivers who struggled to separate, but Cassel shares in the blame for holding onto the ball too long. Anytime a team gives up sacks, it forces them into longer down and distance situations and that is a major reason for poor QB play.

Positives

  • The additions of Thomas Jones and rookies Dexter McCluster and Tony Moeaki should give Cassel a much better collection of weapons than he had last year
  • Jamaal Charles will be the starting RB from the beginning of the season
  • Cassel should benefit from the addition of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis

Negatives

  • Cassel is prone to poor decisions and takes a lot of sacks
  • The Chiefs defense is still expected to struggle which will mean the Chiefs will be playing from behind
  • Regardless of the reasons, Cassel simply did not play well in several games last season

Final thoughts

Matt Cassel is a difficult player to analyze for several reasons. First, he never started in college so there was a lack of film on him before he even played a down in the NFL. Next, he has only started for two years and the differences in the two years are like night and day. Cassel was in a great situation in New England and a terrible one in Kansas City. The Chiefs are not a good team and that limits Cassel's upside. I expect a slight improvement in Cassel's numbers because of the additional weapons on offense. To me, Cassel is just a mediocre NFL QB and your basic mid to low QB2.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

5Rings said:

I like Cassel this year as my favorite "breakout QB" after Kevin Kolb.

What's changed:

+ Full offseason with Charlie Weis
+ Improved running game (Charles / Thomas)
+ Improved targets (Moeaki has to be better than Pope; full season of Chambers and Bowe, McCluster in slot)
+ Maybe an improved OL (perhaps Albert and Co. improve? not sure on this point, but they are young)

The defense remains terrible, and IMO the Chiefs are still a 6-win team. I like teams that play lots of garbage time.

rzrback77 said:

I think that I have a built in bias against Matt Cassel, the former seventh round pick. Cassel had three years in New England where he threw 39 passes and then Brady got hurt in 08. Cassel jumped right in and played well. He completed 63.4% of his 516 attempts and averaged 7.2 ypa with 21 TDs, all respectable numbers. Then the franchise tag and subsequent trade to KC.

In Kansas City, his completion percentage dropped dpwn to 55.1%. His yards per attemp fell down 1.3 yards all the way to 5.9. His interceptions increased and equaled his TDs at 16. Many are expecting much better things for the Chiefs in 2010, but I am hesitant to get on that bandwagon. I think that the addition of Thomas Jones to the backfield that already had Jamaal Charles will increase the number of rushing attempts for the Chiefs. I think that Cassel should see slight increases in completion percentage and ypa, but not enough to put him in the regular fantasy starter category.

Cassel has a current ADP of QB 22 and 149 overall and I like a couple other guys at that spot more than him, so I doubt that he gets drafted by me.

Multiple Scores said:

I think this guys a hack that got rich from playing in the Patriots system for one year.


Matt Cassel projections

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Anthony Borbely290515323519171752
Message board consensus318535327817151501