Defending the Cassel: With Matt Holding Down the Fort, It's Not All Bad for K.C.

Genevieve WhitbourneCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 15:  Quarterback Matt Cassel #7 of the Kansas City Chiefs drops back to pass against the Houston Texans during their preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on August 15, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

There is no doubt that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Marquee quarterbacks sell tickets, excite fans, and are given the most praise—and blame.

Consequently, the quarterback is one of the most analyzed and talked about positions in football. There are countless QB story lines unfolding this season in the NFL, and while many are being greeted with cautious optimism (Brett Favre is going to have a winning record, right?), there is one QB who just can’t shake off the uncertainty surrounding him.

That would be Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Despite his success in New England, the criticisms of Cassel are seemingly endless. They include the inability to throw an accurate deep pass, hanging on to the ball too long in the pocket, going through his progressions too slowly, having never started a game in college, remaining unproven as a starter in the pros...and the list goes on.

Whenever his name is mentioned, it stirs up doubts. To many NFL minds, Cassel is still an unproven ex-backup who doesn’t seem to fit into a starting position.

One of the biggest knocks against Cassel is his college résumé. As we’ve heard dozens of times, Cassel never started a game as quarterback at USC.

This is throwing up a red flag because it indicates that Cassel wasn’t good enough to play over Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. It also means he doesn’t have as much game-time experience under his belt.

Another major criticism is that Cassel only did well with the Patriots because New England has so many good players.

As dozens have pointed out, Cassel had it pretty easy slinging passes to Randy Moss. Anybody would look good lobbing screen passes to Wes Welker.

Overall, the consensus on Cassel seems to be that he is not really cut out to be a starter in the NFL—or, at least, that he lacks the talent to be a great quarterback. He’s been called overrated, unproven, and unqualified.

The way analysts tell it, Cassel is a no-talent player who’d never even seen a football until he had to take the field for Tom Brady. Cassel then closed his eyes and hoped for the best as he ran the New England offense last season. Then he hypnotized Scott Pioli and snagged a starting gig in Kansas City.

So how did Cassel get one of the coveted starting spots in the NFL despite lacking any skill at the game of football?

The answer—he’s not as bad as some would have you believe.

First of all, the importance placed on being a starter in college seems exaggerated. Athletes who were superstars in college regularly turn out to be NFL busts. Why is it so hard to believe that someone could go from a college nobody to a professional star?

Look at a few of Cassel’s former teammates. Matt Leinart was a god in college football. He produced perfect seasons at USC and won a Heisman Trophy. In the NFL, his play was mediocre, and he was eventually replaced by an aging Kurt Warner.

Matt Leinart—great in college, not so great in the NFL.

Meanwhile, another former teammate of Cassel’s was not a touted college player but has achieved great success in the NFL.

That quarterback’s name? Tom Brady.

Brady had to fight for two years before his Michigan coaches gave him the starting job. He was drafted late by New England, and the rest is history—three Super Bowls, one perfect regular season, and status as one of the all-time greats.

Tom Brady—college unknown, NFL legend.

We will never know how Cassel would have been in college, but we know he can play in the NFL, and that is what matters. Having experience as a starter in the NFL should count double against college experience.

Winning in the NFL is what matters. Cassel won 11 games last season, 10 as a starter.

Nobody would argue that the Patriots are a team lacking a talented group of receivers. This leads to the conclusion that life for a New England quarterback must be easy.

What seems to be forgotten is that the football doesn’t throw itself. Cassel still had to put the ball in the right place at the right time, and that’s not an easy task, no matter who's catching it. Randy Moss is an amazing receiver, but even he's not going to catch a ball that’s thrown 10 yards behind him.

Most of Cassel’s passes made their way to Moss and Welker, two of New England’s best playmakers. This should be considered a good thing, not more reason for criticism.

Many analysts will argue that Cassel was going into panic mode when he was dumping the ball off to Welker. In reality, Cassel was just getting the ball into the hands of the best players. Cassel would not have been doing his job if the ball wasn’t going to Moss and Welker on a regular basis.

The system Cassel was a part of in New England was strong, but it would be foolish to think that Bill Belichick, the most revered and respected coach in the NFL, would allow a mediocre player to run that offense.

Belichick is meticulous and demanding concerning every position, especially the backup to Brady. After a disappointing preseason, Belichick decided to release Kevin O’Connell, the backup behind Cassel last season. Coach Belichick is not going to settle for a subpar backup, just as he didn’t with Cassel.  

Of course, now Cassel is in Kansas City, where his surrounding cast is not composed of tried and tested perennial winners. He has a young group of receivers and a first-time head coach.

How will he handle the pressure to win and the tough road ahead?

Whatever you say about the quarterback, you can’t argue that Cassel is a stranger to pressure-packed situations. Last season, he was regularly measured against the 2007 Patriots, who had one of the most amazing seasons in NFL history—a pretty difficult act to follow.

Cassel didn’t crack under that pressure last season, and he won’t this year in Kansas City.

His newest challenge will be returning from a sprained MCL. Cassel has said that he will be ready for the season opener, a difficult away game against the Ravens; however, anything is possible.

Cassel’s preseason wasn’t stellar, but it's not time to give up on the QB. He wasn’t amazing last preseason either, but he went on to win 11 games.

Despite all the doubts, Cassel’s got talent, and he can prove it.


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