The Curious Case of Matthew Cassel (2000-2009)

Nathan AtkinsContributor IMarch 19, 2009

Feb. 2, 2000

Meet Matthew Brennan Cassel. He is 18 years old.


He is from Northridge, CA, a quarterback in his senior at Chatsworth High School.

Cassel has aspirations of playing Division One football, preferably for his local university, the University of Southern California, also known as USC.

Nationally respected high school recruiter Tom Lemming has said that Cassel is the 52nd best player in the nation.

According to Mr. Lemming, the 6'4" 218-pound prospect is a "pro-style pocket passer with a very strong, accurate delivery."

Cassel is ready for stardom.

Only one man stands in his way: Carson Palmer.

Palmer is a sophomore quarterback at USC, and something of a local legend. He beat out Mike Van Raaphorst his freshman year to become the starter.

Such a feat is rare.

Palmer is only the second freshman in the history of USC football to start his freshman year and has become quite the celebrity.

Cassel will have to dethrone Palmer if he plans to take the reins of Trojan football.

Palmer has not had the most impressive numbers for a starting quarterback–54.9 percent completion rating, 2,914 yds, 16 Tds, and 18 INTs.

The possibility is there for Cassel to surpass Palmer, but the road to becoming the third freshman quarterback to start will not be easy.


Jan. 2, 2003

Palmer leads the USC Trojans to an Orange Bowl victory. The team was slighted by the BCS for a National Championship bid, but responded beautifully, handily defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Not only did Palmer win the Heisman Trophy during the regular season, he did so in grandiose fashion. The quarterback threw for 3,942 yards, 33 TDs, 10 INTs, and had a 63.2 percent completion rating.

Once again, Palmer fights off Cassel for the starting spot on the Trojan depth chart. He is expected to be a first round draft pick in the NFL, leaving the quarterback position open to Cassel, Matt Leinart, and transfer Brandon Hance.


Jan. 1, 2004

Leinart leads the USC Trojans to an A.P. National Co-Championship. Though unable to play in the championship game again, USC is chosen as the No. 1 team in the A.P. Poll, making them and LSU co-champions of the '03-'04 season.

Cassel was able to get in some playing time this season, but not at quarterback.

During the season, he started a game at tight end, his only start in four years at USC.

In those four years, Cassel threw for 192 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT for a 57.5 percent completion rating.

It appears he has given up on collegiate football, dedicating more time to his childhood love of baseball. He is selected by the Oakland A's in the recent MLB draft.

It's unclear whether or not he will pursue professional baseball or another career.


Mar. 26, 2005

Cassel has decided to work out for NFL scouts at the USC Pro Day. The former quarterback recruit never started in four years at USC but believes he has the potential to play at the next level.

He has received quite a bit of attention. Former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, now with the Tennessee Titans, discusses possibly signing Cassel as a free agent.

At the Pro Day, Cassel runs a 4.9 40-yard-dash, a 7.21 in the three-cone drill, and shows off his 34" vertical and 9'7" broad jump.

An anonymous scout gave a few positives and negatives on Matt Cassel to USA Today.


"Well-built athlete with quick feet...Has good velocity behind his tosses, able to throw long while on the move...Throws a tight spiral in the short-to-intermediate range...Stays cool under pressure and steps up in the pocket with confidence.

Has a good feel inside the pocket and relies on his quickness to get him out of trouble...Shows the football instincts to improvise when the play breaks down."


"Needs to refine his technique getting to his throwing point...Makes the receivers work too much to get to the ball on deep routes...Side-arm slinger who carries the ball too low to his side, resulting in some costly fumbles.

Forces the ball into traffic, mostly because of his inability to find his secondary targets as he tends to get "tunnel vision" in going to his primary receiver... Has only a functional command of the offense and marginal field vision.

Does not read defenses efficiently and despite his quickness, he is no danger for a defense as a scrambler...Long tosses tend to float and sail."

Sept. 7, 2008

Bernard Pollard is now hated by everyone on the East Coast; except for maybe one exception: Matt Cassel.

Due to Pollard's questionable late hit on All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady, Cassel has become the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots.


No, you did not misread that sentence.

The former high school standout and perennial back up has ascended to the ranks of starting quarterback, and not just for any NFL team.

He has become the quarterback for the New England Patriots, who finished 18-1 the previous year.

Cassel looks composed when he steps onto the field. He completes 13 of his 18 passes for 152 yds and 1 TD.


Dec. 28, 2008

Cassel leads the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record, something most football fans never imagined.

The 27-year-old had been a backup practically his entire life. The most experience he had as a starter was in 2000–as a senior in high school.

With uncertainty surrounding Brady's knee, it is unclear what New England will do with its starting quarterback dilemma.

For Cassel, 2008 appeared to be his coming out party.” He completed 63 percent of his passes, threw for 3,693 yards, 21 Tds, and 11 INTs–numbers that definitely look good to teams like Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Seattle.


Present Day

I'm unsure where to go from here.

Cassel threw for 3,693 yards in 2008, but is now a Kansas City Chief, something that terrifies me deeply.

Until 2008, he had never thrown more than 37 passes. Maybe he just needed more time?

There are two things though that stop me from crowning him the next miraculous Belichick creation:

1. He did not beat Miami in Week Three.

2. He quarterbacked in 2008 with a stacked deck.

For a quarterback that has never played a full season in the NFL, it is unfair to expect much. Yet after beating Kansas City, I assumed a similar defeat was in store for Miami.

I should have known better though, after hearing Joey Porter run his mouth on ESPN.

"It'll be good to go out and get our first victory. I just know [Cassel] is not a Tom Brady...

"If it's not Tom Brady, it shouldn't be that hard. . . . They won last week, but it's not like they were putting up the crazy 40 points they were when they had Tom.

"So, it's a different offense, it's a different team without Tom there. I don't care what anybody says. It's not the same team without Brady.''

Joey Porter was right and the Patriots didn't put up 40 points. They couldn't even match the 17 they scored against Kansas City two weeks before.

Porter's Dolphins, on the other hand, scored a whopping 38 points.

After a team goes 1-15 the previous season, it is not expected to come into Foxboro and defeat a New England Patriots team that went 18-1 in the same season.

Not only did the Dolphins beat the Patriots at home, they did it with ease.

Cassel struggled after that game, going 4-3 until a rematch against Miami in Week 10 where he threw for 415 yards, leading to a 48-28 rout of the future AFC East Champs.

After that, Cassel began to establish himself as a legitimate NFL quarterback, throwing for over 400 yards in back-to-back games.

Though I'm hard on Cassel for getting blown out by Miami, I have to remember that it was his third start ever as an NFL quarterback, and it came against a team that ranked 15th in total defense, and ninth in points allowed.

Not only did the Dolphins have a solid defense, they won eleven games and the AFC East. They were not the 1-15 team they were in 2007.

They had improved drastically.

But still...

Cassel had a great offense in New England, especially at the wide receiver position. Randy Moss was a deep threat that drew double coverage, allowing guys like Wes Welker to get open.

Moss seems to be open even, even when he is double covered, and Welker is the same way. It's not hard to throw to a guy 111 times when defenses can't find him.


The running game in New England is not dominant by any means, but it was versatile enough to take enough pressure off Cassel without putting added pressure on Moss and Welker.

The combination of Sammy Morris, Lamont Jordan, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 1,872 yds and 19 TDs.

The foursome was just as productive catching the ball, adding another facet to the Patriot's feared offensive attack.

They provided 684 receiving yards and 3 TDs out of the backfield.

The only problem with New England's offense is the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger was the talk of 2008 for his ability to get sacked. However, Matt Cassel was sacked 47 times in 2008—more than Big Ben.

The best part about Cassel going to Kansas City is the that even with three different quarterbacks, the Chiefs' offensive line only allowed 36 sacks.

Cassel must be salivating over that fact alone.

But the good news stops there Matthew. Sorry.

Kansas City's defense ranked 31st in the NFL in 2008. In case you didn't know, there are only 32 teams in the league.

That's right, Matt. Your new defense finished second to last in total defense. It wouldn't be wise to count on them to keep you in too many close games.

New England? They ranked 10th last year.

I wish I could say it gets better from there but it doesn't. Kansas City's receivers need help too.

Actually, the entire offense needs help.

Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley and Tony Gonzalez are the Chiefs' top three receivers.


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