The Atlanta Falcons scored 40 points on the Kansas City Chiefs, but without Tamba Hali, Kendrick Lewis and Brandon Flowers many fans are chalking the loss up to bad timing. The defense won’t face many offenses like the one in Atlanta and will get healthy in the next couple of weeks, so there’s reason for optimism. What’s more important to examine is the play of the offense and quarterback Matt Cassel.
Lost in a poor team performance was a very encouraging performance by Cassel. Kansas City was down just three points at halftime despite being unable to stop Atlanta’s offense. Essentially, Cassel carried the Chiefs in a game where the defense wasn't performing.
Of Cassel’s three turnovers, only one was completely his fault and at least three passes were dropped, not including the interception that went off the hands of tight end Tony Moeaki. It’s important to consider situation and the performance of others when judging the performance of a quarterback.
Play No. 1
Result of the play: Kevin Boss 22-yard touchdown catch.
Situation: 2nd-and-6 from the Atlanta 22-yard line.
Cassel’s pre-snap read is zone coverage (Cover 3) on the outside cornerback Brent Grimes in the deep zone. Dwayne Bowe and Boss will both run into the deep zone. Boss draws the coverage of the linebacker, for the first 10 yards.
Grimes commits to Bowe once he gets past the strong safety playing the middle zone. The linebacker is one-on-one with Boss down the seam, but thinks he had help.
Grimes reads the play, but it is too late and he can’t break up the pass for Boss. They call it the seam, because it is the seam between two zones and Grimes was more concerned with Bowe than Boss.
Cassel’s throw was perfect and Boss made a great catch to come down with the score.
Play No. 2
Result of the play: Cassel 5-yard touchdown run.
Situation: 2nd-and-goal from the Atlanta five-yard line.
Cassel has four wide receivers and three of them are going to run to the goal line and clear out the center of the field except Dexter McCluster in the slot left who will block.
Atlanta has three players capable of coming up to make the stop on Cassel and only one of Cassel’s blockers is not already engaged with a defender.
Cassel’s blocker takes out one of the would-be tacklers, but Cassel still has to beat the safety and the linebacker flying in from the side.
Cassel fights through the tackle of the linebacker and dives past the safety for the touchdown.
Play No. 1
Result of the play: Matt Cassel fumble.
Situation: 3rd-and-15 from the Kansas City 15-yard line.
Jamaal Charles lost five yards on a first-down run, so Cassel has to get 15 yards to get a first down. The Chiefs are in the shotgun so the defense knows it’s a pass play.
All the protection for Cassel was to the right, where the Chiefs anticipated a blitz. Instead, the Falcons dropped the linebacker and brought the safety. Branden Albert is on an island and blocking John Abraham.
The Falcons were taking away everything deep and Cassel doesn't have a check-down option. Abraham beats Albert badly around the edge. Cassel had very little time to throw prior to Abraham hitting his blind side.
Abraham pops the ball in the air and Atlanta recovers. Atlanta would score a touchdown on their first play from the 7-yard line.
The way the play was designed there were no short completions, Cassel was looking for a receiver open for the first down. The offensive line protection was to the right, so Albert had to protect against Abraham coming inside. Unfortunately, Abraham exploded past Albert and got the strip sack on Cassel.
If you have to assign blame, give an equal share to Albert who whiffed on his block and Charles for losing five yards by running backwards on first down. Negative plays result in negative results, sometimes even two or three plays later.
Play No. 2
Result of the play: Matt Cassel interception No. 1.
Situation: 2nd-and-9 from the Kansas City 32-yard line.
In this situation the Chiefs are trying to get at least enough yards for a manageable third down. Tony Moeaki is going to run across the formation and come back to Cassel with all the receivers running deep comeback routes past the first-down markers.
Cassel reads his outside receiver to his right, but the Falcons have him well covered.
Cassel decided to hit his second read, Moeaki, who had body position on the linebacker but is otherwise well covered. The linebacker looks to contact Moeaki before the ball arrives.
The goes through the hands of Moeaki, which is the worst kind of drop because it often gives the defensive secondary an opportunity for an interception.
The safety makes a diving catch for the interception. He may have trapped it, but there was no replay angle that showed it definitively.
Cassel threw to his big-bodied tight end that is supposed to make tough catches in traffic, but got burned. The throw was accurate and most the time the worst that happens is the pass falls incomplete. It’s tough to fault Cassel for the interception that bounced off of his receivers hands.
Play No. 3
Result of the play: Matt Cassel interception No. 2.
Situation: 3rd-and-1 from the Kansas City 26-yard line, down 37-17 with about 13 minutes left to play.
This interception is completely on Cassel, but it’s worth wondering why the Chiefs thought a rollout pass was a good idea on 3rd-and-short when they had been able to run the ball effectively for most of the day. This play also came off of a timeout by Kansas City.
The play looks like a run as the Chiefs line up in the I-formation with two tight ends, so I guess the Chiefs believed they could fool the defense.
Atlanta bites on the run and crashes inside, except for free safety William Moore who sees Cassel with the ball and reverses field.
Cassel doesn't have enough speed to run away from Moore and starts looking for an open receiver.
Cassel foolishly throws across his body and across the field, but can’t see Stephen Nicholas that untangled himself from the pile dropping back into coverage.
Cassel had two better options. Nate Eachus was wide open in the flat and Cassel simply had to lob it over Moore’s head for a big gain. The other option was Kevin Boss five yards further down the field, but in similar position to catch a lob pass and turn it into a big gain.
While Cassel made a poor decision, his team was down 20 points and he couldn't take a sack. Cassel had to try to make a play, even though it was a broken play.
Can Matt Cassel lead the Chiefs to the playoffs?
Matt Cassel might not be able to make a lot of plays on his own, but he proved he can get the ball to his teammates and keep the offense on track when he doesn't have to force throws. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would be wise to realize that Cassel is not like Ben Roethlisberger who can turn broken plays into big gains.
While Daboll may get away with a designed quarterback draw to Cassel occasionally, Kansas City should have conservative offensive game plans that put the ball in the hands of his other offensive weapons. The Chiefs need to look no further than the San Francisco 49ers for a template on how to win with a limited quarterback and a good defense.
In the first half, the Chiefs did exactly what they should have done on offense, but with the team behind two scores Daboll starting pressing and departed from a game plan that was both working for the Chiefs and Cassel.
In future weeks the Chiefs should get a few more defensive stops and hopefully Daboll doesn't try to get too fancy with the play calling.