Matt Cassel: Is He Proving His Doubters Wrong With an MVP-Caliber Season?
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All Matt Cassel has done in 2010 is toss 22 touchdowns and over 2,300 passing yards against just four interceptions, while guiding his AFC West division-leading Chiefs to a 7-4 record, including a hot 3-0 start to kick-off the season.
That's a lot of good to be talked about a 28-year-old kid who didn't seem to have a clue as to what he was doing a year ago when the Chiefs limped their way to four wins, while he threw just 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
However, that lost season and those mediocre stats now seem long gone in the eyes of fantasy football gamers, as well as Chiefs fans, as Cassel is on cruise control in fantasy leagues, and apparently in just as much control of Kansas City's playoff hopes.
What he's doing isn't in question. The stats are there. They're impressive. The Chiefs have seven wins in 11 games. That's not going away. The division lead, well, it is "what it is". The Chiefs still have dates with the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, all games in which are sure to aid in finalizing exactly which team escapes this season with the division crown.
The real question here is why or how Cassel has made this massive transformation; this quantum leap to fantasy and real-life quarterback stardom. Is this for real, or just a mirage? Is this Cassel putting back on his 2008 "I'm here to show you what's up" hat, or is this another one-year teeny-bop wonder hit, one we'll be referencing in three years as we do in regards to Sugar Ray or Crazy Town?
Regardless of your take on Cassel and the Chiefs, there are definitely some facts that contribute to the quarterback's turn-around.
1. Dwayne Bowe Is All Grows Up
Just like "Mikey" in Swingers, lil' Bowe is all growns up, or he's grows up. Either way you spin it, this kid has come alive, and if we're being grammatically sane, he's truly growing up, and it's happening right before our eyes.
We're talking Jack and the Beanstalk "growing up". We're talking 14 total touchdowns caught in 11 games, with at least one touchdown in seven straight games and at least two touchdowns in three straight games.
You can talk all day about Bowe being Cassel's only true threat at receiver, but if you're actually using that against either of these guys, I'd argue that only shows you even more how valuable Bowe is and how effective Cassel is at getting him the ball.
This connection is down-right sickening—and in a very good way.
2. The Running Game is Wild
We don't have to get into numbers, but we will. Jamaal Charles had 1,120 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games in 2009. He already has 1,021 yards in 11 games this season. The guy is rushing for 6.3 yards per carry and is fresh off of a disturbing 173-yard game against the Seattle Seahawks.
For all those skeptics who said Charles' late 2009 run was a fluke, well, consider yourself more than just a little bit wrong.
But it's not just about Charles. Out went the aged and slowed Larry Johnson, and in came the, er, aged and slowed Thomas Jones? Not exactly. While he may not be the burner Charles is, and while he certainly isn't young, Jones has done nothing but provide the Chiefs with a great inside runner and short-yardage threat in 2010, en route to 712 rushing yards and five touchdowns. These are very impressive numbers through 11 games considering Charles is so productive.
Needless to say, the now very much elite KC rush offense has opened up things a bit for Cassel and co., and it's showing.
3. The Play-Calling is Better
With Charlie Weiss in town, Cassel has more creative and reliable play-calling. Head coach Todd Haley's extensive offensive knowledge and decision-making surely plays into it and doesn't hurt, but Weiss being around to help mature Cassel's big arm and down-field ability have gone a long way in helping him make better decisions, along with avoiding the crucial mistakes.
Cassel reverted to checkdowns and safe routes in 2009, whereas the shackles seem to have been taken off in 2010. Better play-calling and coaching around Cassel has led to less turnovers, better decisions, and more completions (up by five percent).
4. The Offensive Line is Doing its Job
The rush attack has always been at least solid in Kansas City, but credit still has to go out to an offensive line that has blocked for Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones to combine for over 1,700 rushing yards in just 11 games.
But, as stated, this line's ability to run-block wasn't an unkown. It was their shoddy pass protection that has been in question in recent years, especially in Cassel's case, as they allowed him to get taken to the ground 42 times in 15 starts in 2009.
Fast forward to 2010, the here and now, and through 11 games, Cassel has been sacked just 15 times. Needless to say, better protection has obviously helped Cassel feel less pressured, stay healthy and offered him time to make the right plays, and again, avoid the bad ones. Less sacks means less fumbles, less forced throws and less turnovers.
Are the Chiefs a legit threat for the Super Bowl?
5. The Schedule is Much, Much Easier
All of the points and stats listed and mentioned above are true. They all happened and are happening and very well could continue to happen. However, it's hard not to focus on something that occurs every single season—an average-to-decent team benefiting immensely from a cakewalk schedule.
See: 2009 Minnesota Vikings
The point is, when the Chiefs went 4-12 in 2009, all four of their victories came against teams with 9-7 records or worse, while five of their 12 losses came by seven points or less. And here in 2010, the Chiefs have two wins against winning teams, with three wins by seven points or less.
To add to it, down the stretch in 2010, they face just one team that currently has a winning record. Granted, three of those games are likely to be hard-fought divisional matchups, but this shouldn't go unnoticed.
However, if you're playing the "if" game, the Chiefs "could" have been 9-7 in 2009 and "could" be 4-7 right now.
But if you're using this as logic, you won't be getting anywhere. Because they lost a ton of games in 2009 with an easy schedule (record-wise), and now they're winning a bunch with another easy schedule. The notion showing up would be: they weren't very good in 2009 and now they are.
There is a theme developing here...
The point is, the 2010 Kansas City Chiefs, just like this current version of Matt Cassel, will be questioned, poked and prodded until they do something more glamorous that the previous week. No amount of four-touchdown games will appease Cassel doubters. No amount of 40+ point team efforts will make the Chiefs any more real or "legit" than they've already made themselves.
The blunt truth is this: Matt Cassel and these Chiefs have never been to the playoffs. Getting there and having a successful season is step one, with step two actually doing something when they get there.
So, while Cassel is certainly playing extremely well, and it's tough to say it, the truth is he simply hasn't done anything yet. Putting up mammoth fantasy football numbers don't make you a great quarterback or a great NFL team. The 2008 Patriots and Matt Cassel can attest to that. We've seen this kid put up stats and win some games before, and anyone with a keen NFL eye had to know he could do it again in the right environment.
And here he is, in that exact environment called for in order for him to be successful. He's got the offensive line, the elite receiver, an emerging rookie tight end, a fantastic rushing game and even a solid defense. Quite honestly, the rest is up to Matt Cassel.
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