To all of the inevitable Monday morning haters of Matt Cassel:
Allow me to first say that I feel your pain. Yesterday's loss to the Denver Broncos was difficult to stomach. Even worse, the sting felt familiar, the taste of something we've eaten before. This season has been a grueling one for the Kansas City Chiefs and there's no way around that. But the familiar maxim says that "hurting people hurt people," and that's true of Chiefs nation on yet another morning after a bitter defeat.
Feeling the frustration of the Chiefs performance yesterday, it's easy to lash out in response -- some knee-jerk reaction that must pin something on someone. And an NFL team has two familiar lightning rods when a season is going downhill: the head coach and the quarterback. Notice that at multiple points this season, Todd Haley has been on the hot seat and now people are calling for Matt Cassel to lose his job (and not for the first time).
There's no doubt that someone has to be blamed for the loss(es), but proper perspective is needed before yelling that heads should roll. After all, if the wrong head rolls, then no one wins. The 2011 San Francisco 49ers are the ideal example of making certain that correct personnel calls are made on the field and in the front office. The Bay Area has been calling for Alex Smith's head for years. Frank Gore was too injury prone. Together they're leading a Niners offense that's the second best team in the NFL.
Not all stories work out that way, of course. For every win, someone must lose. If the NFL has elite teams, then it must also have basement dwellers and within such a system, there must be turnover for the teams that fail to perform. Such is life in the NFL. But the best teams make the right moves at the right time. So the question facing the Chiefs right now is this: is it the right time to pull Matt Cassel?
For me, the answer is very, very simple: absolutely not. No way. Matt Cassel is not Tom Brady. He's also not a heralded prospect who might grow leaps and bounds from where he is now. A fan base usually wants a top-tier veteran or the potential of one, and anything in between is seen as only temporary. But Cassel doesn't have to be those things for the Chiefs to succeed -- or to at least be the best option that KC has in house at this point.
It's uncanny how quickly Cassel's best games are forgotten. He was celebrated a month ago for his strong performances against the Colts and the Vikings in consecutive wins. Even just last year, Cassel was a Pro Bowler who limited turnovers, found chemistry with Bowe for a league-leading 15 touchdown receptions and helped Tony Moeaki develop into a breakout candidate. No one called for his head then or doubted that he was at least a decent quarterback for the Chiefs who would likely enjoy his new options.
And that brings up the injuries. Instead of adding Jonathan Baldwin to stable offensive unit that was already young and dynamic, the Chiefs suffered losses as horrific as any other team in the NFL this season. Moeaki went down, a player who Peter King raved about in training camp visits as a player on the verge of making a leap to greatness. Jamaal Charles, the team's offensive MVP and best impact player, was lost soon thereafter. Baldwin was injured in a reported locker room fight and wouldn't catch his first pass until mid-season.
Despite the signing of Steve Breaston, the Chiefs were suddenly thin. Bill Muir was the third offensive coordinator in Cassel's three years in Kansas City. Brian Waters was let go and the offensive line has remained woefully thin (since the Jared Gaither experiment evidently didn't work out thus far). In other words, the same yearly questions surrounding the capabilities of Branden Albert and Barry Richardson are still in the same place they have been.
There's no doubt that Cassel's numbers have been pedestrian at best these last few games. The offense has been anemic, and someone has to be blamed. Is Cassel unable to move the chains? Is it the playcalling? Is it poor game planning against opposing defenses? Could it be all three? The answer is likely "yes" to the last one.
But to move Cassel at this point would accomplish little. Tyler Palko is the next quarterback ready to play and anyone who points to his 5 of 6 performance subbing for Cassel at the end of the Denver game would do well to realize that against a prevent defense, I would throw 4 of 6. Palko is certainly not the answer at this point (and it was even questionable why he was getting the back-up spot for the Chiefs this season anyway since he's failed to impress for some time now).
For those wanting Ricky Stanzi, he's not going to solve your problems either. Every now and then, a low draft choice will come in and perform at a high level and create an NFL feel good story. But 32 teams passed over the Iowa product for four rounds apiece before the Chiefs grabbed him in the fifth. He's never been active in an NFL game and he didn't even get that much playing time in the preseason. An NFL team isn't just a Lego set where you remove one piece and simply attach another to piece together the whole. The nuances and layers involved would likely throw Stanzi to the wolves and produce numbers that would make Jimmy Clausen look like a Pro Bowler.
Maybe not. Maybe Stanzi is the future and perhaps the future is now. I could easily eat my words and I would actually be quite happy to, considering that would mean the Chiefs are winning and that Stanzi excelled. But let's be honest about the realities of the NFL. It's simply not likely in any way.
If Cassel is healthy enough to play on Sunday against the Patriots (or any remaining Sundays left in 2011 for that matter), then there's no doubt he should be the starter. The numbers haven't been pretty, but there's no reason to cast all blame on Cassel. With the right personnel around him, he's exhibited the ability to lead the Chiefs to victory before and he is still that same guy.
An Open Letter To Matt Cassel Detractors
The numbers haven't been pretty, but there's no reason to cast all blame on Cassel. With the right personnel around him, he's exhibited the ability to lead the Chiefs to victory before and he is still that same guy.
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To all of the inevitable Monday morning haters of Matt Cassel: