Have you wondered why it’s been so long since the Chiefs developed their own quarterback?
Watching and listening to what’s happened in the last month or so with QB Matt Cassel, it’s not hard to understand why the Chiefs haven’t gone the developmental route since drafting Todd Blackledge back in 1983.
It’s not easy watching a quarterback earn his stripes. It’s a mess actually, a roller coaster that produces all the feelings that go into any amusement park ride: exhilaration, nausea, thrills, chills, fear and many more emotions.
There’s nothing easy about dealing with the trials and tribulations of an inexperienced quarterback trying to find his way. But there is an investment of time and patience that must be made by an organization if they are truly going to give their guy a chance to be the franchise quarterback.
Right now, the Chiefs seem willing to be patient. Todd Haley gave Cassel the hook last Sunday, but immediately stated that he was not going to change his starter.
Cassel has 26 games as a starting quarterback in the NFL. That’s 15 in New England last season and 11 this year. His record as a starter is 13-13. That’s better than most.
For all those who have already decided Cassel isn’t capable of being the franchise quarterback for the Chiefs, I’m here to tell you that assessment is premature. And, for all those who think Cassel is the man to eventually be the replacement for the long retired Len Dawson, I say not so fast.
Any evaluation of Cassel at this point has to take into account many factors, some of which are out of his control. The hardest part of divining whether a young quarterback is capable of leading a team is the team itself. Who is he playing with? What kind of situations is he asked to handle? What type of game plans is he given? What’s the coaching staff like? How much patience does the organization have?
After 11 games as the starting quarterback for the Chiefs, I can’t make any type of assessment of whether Cassel is the quarterback this team has sought for so long. The sample size for his performances is not big enough and there are key factors involved that have made his development and progress harder to define and grade. They are:
SACKS – Nothing destroys a young quarterback’s confidence more than getting pounded week after week by the powerful pass rushers that populate the NFL. They develop visible physical signals of the problem, like happy feet in the pocket, if they even stay in the pocket. Completion percentages fall, as the battered passer gets rid of the ball too early, or on the run.
Cassel’s completion percentage ranks among the worst passers in the league at 53.9 percent. The NFL average is 61 percent. There are times when Cassel shows nervous feet in the pocket, but he’s done a good job for the most part of fighting that and hanging in there, no matter what might be coming at him.
Only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (45) has been sacked more often than the 37 times that Cassel has been brought down. The NFL average is 26.3 sacks.
The QB does not get absolved of fault on the sacks, but the problems in protection are generally traceable to the bodies in front of him.
ANALYSIS: the Chiefs protection has been too poor and too inconsistent to accurately analyze Cassel’s pocket presence.
DROPPED PASSES – The Chiefs lead the NFL with 37 dropped passes and 32 of those have come on passes thrown by Cassel. No other quarterback in the league has dealt with as many dropped balls.
WR Bobby Wade is tied for the league lead in dropped passes with nine. WR Mark Bradley and WR Dwayne Bowe are tied for eighth with seven drops each. There are 16 players ranked in the top 10 among individual receivers with drops and the Chiefs are the only team with three players in that group.
Like the sacks, a quarterback does not get absolved from blame for the drops. Generally, the drops will be matched by the great catches that a receiver makes on passes that were not thrown very well. The league number crunchers have a stat they call poor throws. Cassel ranks fifth in the league in poor throws with 62. That’s behind Tony Romo of Dallas (80), Matthew Stafford of Detroit (80), Tom Brady in New England (68) and Chicago’s Jay Cutler (62). None of those quarterbacks have been sacked 37 times either.
ANALYSIS: the Chiefs have dropped far too many passes this season. Having three players in the top eight among players with the most drops is overwhelming and makes judging Cassel accuracy throwing the football a tough and unfair assignment.
INJURIES/SUSPENSION – Stability is one of the greatest helpers for a young quarterback. If the faces around him remain familiar from week-to-week, he can grow more comfortable dealing with all the other bogeys that cross his radar screen.
Cassel hasn’t had that. There were injuries along the offensive line that took LT Branden Albert and RG Mike Goff out of the starting group. C Rudy Niswanger did not miss any games, but he did miss almost two weeks of practice time.
RB Larry Johnson was suspended by the team and then released. WR Dwayne Bowe is serving out the final week of his four-game NFL suspension.
ANALYSIS: the instability of key performers makes it that much tougher to judge Cassel and his play. Generally, bad football teams are shallow in quality depth and the ‘09 Chiefs are a perfect example of that type of team.
ROSTER SHUFFLING – Consider that among the six receivers Cassel targeted most often against Denver, four were not with the team for the opening game of the season: Wade (12), WR Lance Long (8), WR Chris Chambers (6) and TE Leonard Pope (3).
In the offense after 12 games, the second, third, sixth and ninth leading receivers were not part of the off-season program, training camp or the pre-season. Haley can talk about that being over-rated, but I don’t think we’ll see him stop having OTA sessions and training camp. There were a lot of practices and a lot of throws made to players who are not around anymore.
ANALYSIS: developing the quarterback-receiver relationship is tough for any inexperienced quarterback getting his feet wet with a new team. Make that even more difficult by changing the team on a regular basis and it’s going to take longer for the key performers in the passing game to get on the same page.
CHANGE IN OFFENSE – No other starting quarterback in the NFL had to go through what Cassel did back in early September when Haley fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Now, Tampa Bay and Buffalo also fired their offensive coordinators. But they did not make as massive a change to the offense as what Haley did with the Chiefs; he basically knocked down the first and second floors of the offensive house, left the foundation and rebuilt. All this was done on the run and through the early part of the regular season, not in scrimmages and meaningless exhibition games.
ANALYSIS: Not many quarterbacks have been asked to do what Cassel has been forced to do in his second season as a starting quarterback. It makes it very tough to evaluate all of his skills. That the Chiefs have not had a consistent or productive offense should not come as a surprise given the circumstances.
The same can be said for Matt Cassel. There are qualities of a successful NFL starting quarterback that he displays on a regular basis.
But it’s far too early in the process to say that Cassel is or isn’t the franchise quarterback so desired by the Chiefs and their fans.
I know you don’t want to hear this, but everyone is going to have to be patient. Matt Cassel has shown enough that he deserves a fair chance to find success on the other end of the tunnel of development.
SIGNINGS, HONORS, INJURIES & MOVEMENT AROUND THE LEAGUE
- AFC – named Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski offensive player of the week, Jaguars LB Justin Durant defensive player of the week and Dolphins K Dan Carpenter special teams player of the week.
- NFC – named Cardinals QB Kurt Warner offensive player of the week, Packers LB Clay Matthews as defensive player of the week and Giants WR Domenik Hixon as the special teams player of the week.
- BENGALS – signed DT Shaun Smith; placed TE Chase Coffman on the injured-reserve list (ankle).
- BRONCOS – signed OT Herb Taylor; placed OT Ryan Harris on the injured-reserve list (toe).
- CHARGERS – placed DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo on the injured-reserve list (ankle); signed DT Antonio Garay from the Jets practice squad.
- COLTS – placed QB Jim Sorgi on the injured-reserve list (shoulder); re-signed OT Michael Toudouze.
- JETS – announced that QB Matt Sanchez would not play this Sunday and Kellen Clemens will start against the Buccaneers.
- PATRIOTS – placed S Bret Lockett on the injured-reserve list (groin); promoted DT Titus Adams from the practice squad.
- RAMS – placed S Oshiomogho Atogwe on the injured-reserve list (shoulder); promoted QB Mike Reilly from the practice squad.
- REDSKINS – promoted OT William Robinson from the practice squad.
- SAINTS – promoted RB Marcus Mailei and LB Anthony Waters from the practice squad.
- STEELERS – released QB Tyler Palko; promoted WR Tyler Grisham from the practice squad.
- TEXANS – placed RB Steve Slaton on the injured-reserve list (neck).
- TITANS – DT Jason Jones is out for the rest of the season after shoulder surgery on Wednesday.
- VIKINGS – placed LB E.J. Henderson on the injured-reserve list (leg); promoted TE Garrett Mills from the practice squad.
FROM THE PAGES OF CHIEFS HISTORY
On December 10, 1961, the Dallas Texans beat the Denver Broncos 49-21 in front of 8,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl. The Texans scored early and often in this game, with seven total touchdowns. The star of the game was rookie RB/WR Frank Jackson out of SMU. Jackson scored four touchdowns in this game on runs of eight, 30 and 49 yards, and a 20-yard scoring pass from QB Cotton Davidson. With RB Abner Haynes out of the game due to injury, Jackson became the workhorse for the Dallas offense. He carried the ball 16 times for 106 yards and caught four passes for 76 yards. RB Bo Dickinson scored o n a one-yard run, and RB Johnny Robinson caught a 45-yard TD pass from Davidson. The defense contributed as well, as LB Sherrill Headrick (left) returned one of his two interceptions 31 yards for a touchdown. LB Smokey Stover also had two interceptions.
On December 10, 1967, the Chiefs beat the New York Jets 21-7 at Shea Stadium with 62,893 fans in the stands. This game was scoreless at half-time, but the Chiefs got a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. RB Curtis McClinton scored on a one-yard run and WR Chris Burford caught an 11-yard TD pass from QB Len Dawson. They added a fourth-quarter touchdown when CB Fred Williamson (right) grabbed an interception off Jets QB Joe Namath and took it back 77 yards for a touchdown. The KC defense forced three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by Williamson and LB Bobby Bell and allowed just 167 yards
On December 10, 1972, the Chiefs beat the Baltimore Colts 24-10 at Arrowhead Stadium. A crowd of 44,175 fans sat through weather conditions where the wind-chill was minus five degrees. The star of the day was RB Wendell Hayes, who ran for 104 yards on 19 carries and caught five passes for 55 yards, including 13-yard TD pass from QB Len Dawson. WR Otis Taylor (left) caught a 25-yard TD pass from Dawson and RB Ed Podolak scored on a five-yard run.
On December 10, 1978, the Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos 24-3 at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos clinched the AFC West title with the victory. It was led by QB Craig Morton, who threw three touchdown passes, while completing 19 of 22 passes and at one point hit 16 straight passes. Denver TE Riley Odoms caught seven passes for 165 yards including a pair of TD passes. The Chiefs had just 199 yards in total offense and put only a FG from K Jan Stenerud on the scoreboard. QB Mike Livingston was 10 of 29 for 115 yards and an interception.
On December 10, 1989, the Chiefs beat the Green Bay Packers 21-3 at Lambeau Field. It was a big second quarter for the offense and a top-level performance by the defense that brought the Chiefs victory on the hallowed grounds of Lambeau. Steve DeBerg had touchdown passes of 11 yards to TE Jonathan Hayes and 12 yards to WR Emile Harry. Christian Okoye got the other score with a three-yard TD run, one of 38 he had in the game for a total of 131 yards. The Chiefs defense gave up just 208 yards and Lloyd Burruss has an interception of Packers QB Don Majkowski. Neil Smith, Dan Saleaumua and Albert Lewis had sacks.
On December 10, 2000, the Chiefs beat Carolina 15-14 in front of 77,481 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. Despite four turnovers, the Chiefs were able to grab a one-point victory on a fourth quarter field goal of 33 yards by K Todd Peterson. Earlier in the final period, QB Elvis Grbac and TE Tony Gonzalez combined on a six-yard TD play. Peterson had two other FGs, good from 24 and 35 yards. Grbac was 31 of 44 for 315 yards, but had two interceptions. The Chiefs defense had six sacks, as DEs Duane Clemons and Eric Hicks (right) had two each. FS Jerome Woods had an interception of Panthers QB Steve Beuerlein.
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on December 10, 1947 in Munising, Michigan was LB Clyde Werner. He was selected in the second round of the 1970 NFL Draft out of the University of Washington. Werner played in five seasons with the Chiefs (1970-74, 1976), appearing in 63 games, with four starts. He intercepted two passes and recovered three fumbles.
Born on December 10, 1936 in Fort Worth, Texas was QB Hunter Enis (left). He joined the original Dallas Texans for the 1960 inaguaral season, appearing in all 14 games and making one start. Enis completed 30 of 54 passes for 357 yards with one TD pass and two interceptions. He ran 12 times for minus-12 yards. Enis spent the 1961 AFL season with San Diego, and then split time in 1962 with Denver and Oakland.