Monday, November 24, 2008

I Was Wrong About Cassel

While I'm not quite ready to annoint Patriot's interim quarterback, Matt Cassel, the second coming of Tom Brady, I have officially joined "Cassel's Corner" with all the other New England crazies. However, I do have a confession to make. At the end of this year's pre-season, I was convinced that the Pats would cut Cassel. I went so far as to send subliminal thoughts to Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli encouraging them to get rid of Cassel. When they didn't, I shook my head and asked, "what is it that Belichick sees that we don't?"

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that I wasn't the only one who who shared these feelings of being underwhelmed by Cassel's subpar pre-season. To be honest, I was a bit surprised given the fact Cassel has spent the last six years as a back up behind some of the best NCAA and NFL talent around i.e. Tom Brady, Matt Leinhart and Carson Palmer. If Cassel had learned anything from this trio of Heisman winning/MVP caliber QBs, he sure wasn't showing it in the pre-season.

I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised by his poor pre-season showing based on some of Cassel's garbage time performances at the end of the 2006 and 2007 seasons where he seemed to be progressing nicely. And with offensive weapons like Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Lawrence Maroney, and an All Pro offensive line, you or I should be able to step in and manage the Pats to at least a 10-6 record, right? Instead, it was third stringer, Matt Gutierrez who seemed to step up and deliver in July and August. Thus the look of horror on Pats fans' faces as Brady writhed on the ground clutching his knee. Pleas of "Please don't let it be the ACL!" gave way to "oh shit, we have 15+ weeks with Cassel at the helm." Our only hope was to potentially scoop up the likes of a Daunte Culpepper to try and salvage the rest of the season.

Well, it's eleven weeks later and many of us are saying, "Tom who?" My dad was even brazen enough to ask me last night at dinner, "Who do you think the Pats could get for Brady." He was serious. I said, "Dad, let's talk about who the Red Sox are going to get for David Ortiz, because as much of a stretch as it is that the Sox would get rid of Papi, it's still a million times more likely than the Pats trading Brady. This type of talk is a leading indicator that Cassel is making people forget about Tom Terrific.

To that end, through week twelve Cassel is starting to put up some impressive numbers. While his TD to INT ratio is only 3:2 (15 TDs vs. 10 INTs), he's already thrown for 2,868 yards -- 415 and 400 yards respectively in his last two games alone. He's also rushed for 198 yards which is almost unheard of in the history of the Patriots QBs. What's most important to note is that over the last two games, Cassel has really stepped up his game and has been a TD/passing machine! Let's also not forget that thanks to Matt "Big Game" Cassel, the Pats are now sitting at 7-4 alone in second place in the AFC East and are tied with the Colts and Ravens for the Wild Card with five games to go.

What's most interesting are comparisons that SI beat writer (and NFL guru) Peter King, included in this morning's Monday Morning Quarterback column:

"Now this stat is eerie: After Tom Brady's first 11 starts in the NFL, his completion percentage was 66.3. After Matt Cassel's 11 NFL games this season, his completion percentage is ... well, 66.3...

It's crazy and all-too-soon and slightly irreverent. But it is also unavoidable. Life is imitating art. The career path of Cassel is following Brady's. Brady's record after 11 games: 8-3. Cassel's: 7-4 -- and if the Pats had won the overtime coin flip a week ago Thursday, I bet those records would be the same. Brady's rating: 91.6. Cassel's: 90.5. Cassel leads Brady by 377 passing yards, thanks to Cassel's back-to-back 400-yard passing games. (Been on Mars? That's no misprint.) As for touchdowns, Brady leads Cassel by three.
Bringing this conversation back around to reality... IF the Patriots make it to the playoffs this year and that is a big IF, and Cassel lays an egg, everyone will once again be clammering for Tommy B. to be back in blue and silver next season. But if the Pats do make it to the post season, it will be interesting to see if Cassel can continue to Channel Brady. Who knows, we all thought we could never live with out Bledsoe, right?


Doug Haslam said...

My fist thought when we learned the Cassel got the team for goo this season: "What did we think about Tom Brady?"

- Reputation for short passing only that was gradually overcome as the passing game opened up - a factor of time and playing the right defenses.

Actually, that was the main thing. We saw a series of conservative passing games, accompanied by a worry that Randy Moss was going to go nuclear because he wasn't getting passes. We saw the same thing in 2001, and I would argue it took Brady a lot longer to get over the "he can;t go long" stuimga. Of course Cassel DOES have Moss-- and look what happened in the 2nd Miami game.

I'm not saying the Pats are going to throw over Brady. But as much as I believed in the Pats' ability to work Cassel into their game plan, I did not expect him to start throwing up these numbers. Wow.

adamcohen said...

First off, no one expected Cassell to excel this much. When Brady got hurt, expectations flew out the window for us to contend at all. Despite the great comparison, he's a long way from proving he can close the deal. The good news is that he has steadily improved, and the offense around him continues to build confidence. In the grand scheme of the ups and downs of a typical NFL season, we still have some to go - but I like our chances. I think the thing I like best about Cassell is his ability to stay ultra-cool during the last 2 seconds he has the ball. You can see that the game has slowed down for him.

In terms of comparsion to Bledsoe's situation, I disagree. I think many folks had a collective "we like him but 'meh'" approach - we never knew if we were getting the on fire Bledsoe that came back in the AFC championship game in 2001 or the lead legs guy who just didn't connect with receivers well. We didn't have the confidence and belief in Brady, that's for sure.

As far as I am concerned, this is all upside. Of course I want that upside to go right into a playoff spot and let it ride from there.

WEEI this morning had a whole segment on which team could use Cassell next year. I hope he does well, but do you really think there is a scenario that says he stays in NE? I think some of Brady's best work is yet to come.

jjt said...

'He's also rushed for 198 yards which is almost unheard of in the history of the Patriots QBs."

ummm...remember Steve Grogan?

Aaron Strout said...

Gents - great additions to the post.

-Dough, "Wow" is right!

-AdamCohen - I've hard some of the speculation on EEI RE which team Cassel will go to next year. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pats work out a rich (and potentially, incentive-laden) deal with him in the event that Brady isn't fully recovered by 2009. Cassel may not bite but who knows, you could do worse than being the starting QB for the Pats.

RE: Grogan, I almost added "you haven't seen running stats like that since Grogan" but chose not to for no good reason. Being an old man like myself, you need to remember that we've suffered a lot of stiff-legged QBs in the 22 years since Grogan graced us with his presence. ;)

KFFBOS said...

So many things to add...let's break it down "Dr. Jack style" to steal from Bill Simmons.

1) Preseason

In many cases during the preseason Cassel was under center against a first team defense but with a second string offensive line. Whereas Guttierez was in against third string Defenses. It's the old Michael Bishop push from years past. Parcells used to say something along the line that preseason games mean nothing, preseason practices mean everything. Cassel was doing something right under the bubble.

2) Comparison

Numbers aside, comparing Brady and Cassel at the same moments in their careers is really difficult. In 2001 Brady had no decent receivers, a banged up O-line down the stretch, a pretty poor core of RBs (Smith did have 4 100yd games)and a coaching staff who was just beginning to get the system in place (not to mention the loss of the QB coach at the beginning of the season I believe). Cassel on the other hand has Moss/Welker, a fairly solid O-Line, at times a decent RB threat and a few years of working within a system that has now been used for several years.

3) Schedule, schedule, schedule

Cassel, believe it or not, actually wins out in this one, although it is close. If you look at the Pats schedule in '01 the only good team they played in the regular season were the Rams and Denver, who both beat the Pats.

4) Random stat

Brady threw for 300 yards twice in '01...but one of those games was the Snow Bowl!!

5) Turnovers

Brady had a total of 15 turnovers (INT + Lost Fum) in 01. Cassel has 10 total to this point, so this will be a wash most likely.

6) Big Gamers

Obviously Brady has done everything he can possibly do in big game situations and it is unfair to really judge Cassel on this criteria. However looking at the NYJ and Indy game he seems to be able to handle himself well and in fact if they end up making the playoffs his play in Indy should be the tippingpoint.

7) Conclusion

The "Patriot Way" is all about having good, cost-effective players that are committed to the team for a long period of time, particularly at QB. With Brady coming off tough knee surgery and Cassel entering free agency the Pats have a hugely difficult decision ahead of them and a very healthy debate. At the end of the day however you can not judge a QB by a handful of games in the NFL and then try to sign him as a potential replacement to Brady. Belichick knows this better than any of us and I see them letting Cassel walk at the end of the year.


KFFBOS said...

Interesting piece by Mike Reis this morning, potentially throwing the Franchise Tag on Cassel??