The Kansas City Chiefs are going to be a run-first team next season. That isn't breaking news and shouldn't surprise anyone. They just need Matt Cassel to make enough plays from the quarterback position on third down to sustain drives and lead a ball-controlling, run-first offense for the Chiefs to be successful.
For the most part I believe that he can make enough of those plays to help the Chiefs win the AFC West division again in 2012. But there is one critical area that Cassel must improve if the Chiefs are to seriously contend for a AFC West title and playoff birth next season. Third down passing.
I went back and charted every third down pass Cassel made in 2010 and broke the numbers into two different groups. The first being '3rd and 5 or less', and the second being '3rd and 6 or more'. This is what I found.
When the down and distance was 3rd and 5 or lower, Cassel completed just 38.9% (23-59) of his passes. When the down and distance was 3rd and 6 or higher, Cassel completed 57.8% (48-83) of his passes. Those numbers are staggering to me because it's widely talked about that Cassel's weakness is supposedly throwing the ball down the field. I'm not saying that 57.8% is good or anything, but it's far better than 38.9%, that's for sure.
It's mind-boggling to me that we were this poor on 3rd and short in our passing game. You would think that in 2010 with the strength of our running game in the minds of our opponents that completing play-action passes on 3rd and short would yield a better result than 38.9%.
This is the first thing that I believe the Chiefs need to improve on for 2012 if they want to be considered a contender. A strong running game is supposed to make 3rd downs more manageable should you need all three downs to get a first down. It's not supposed to make completing a pass as rare as it apparently did back in 2010.
If you're looking for specific stats that Matt Cassel needs to improve on in 2012 for the Chiefs to take the next step, don't look any farther. Better third down passing and especially better passing on 3rd and short.