Matt Cassel, Franchise QBs, Playoffs and the Sanity of a City
This Sunday’s game is the most important game of Matt Cassel’s career.
There’s no debating that. It’s Cassel’s first playoff game. He never played in a bowl game in college. No one knows how Cassel will perform under the pressure, because no one has ever seen him in such a pressure-packed game. Not even Cassel has any idea how he’ll perform.
How the Chiefs perform has more to do with Cassel than any other player. Sure, the defense is important. And Jamaal Charles needs to get the damn ball. And the offensive line has to block better than it did last week. But if Cassel sucks, all of that is negated and the Chiefs have no chance.
Looking at Cassel’s numbers (3,116 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 93.0 QB rating), he had a great season and might have even earned himself the right to be the Chiefs quarterback for the foreseeable future.
This is a team, similar to the early 90’s Chiefs, that has the pieces to become a regular contender in the AFC for a playoff spot. They have some potentially great players to build around (Charles, Bowe, Derrick Johnson, Flowers and Berry), and their general manager has a plan. Scott Pioli has built a team by mixing in speedy youth with savvy veterans, but more important than anything else, he’s built his team around character guys.
Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer also had a plan. They built their team around a great defense and would always add enough pieces to make the offense good enough. Peterson could never find a franchise quarterback, but he would get other team’s leftovers and try to go with that guy for a couple years. The closest the Chiefs ever got to the Super Bowl was the 1993 season* when they were one win away.
The main reason they were one win away that season was Joe Montana, the best quarterback – even at his old age – that Peterson was ever able to bring into KC. Problem was, the Chiefs had Montana on borrowed time, and eventually the great Chiefs defense wasn’t so great anymore and Peterson could never find another Montana. Trent Green was pretty good, but the Green-led teams never had a defense that was good enough and never won a playoff game.
*The ’93 team was the last one to win a playoff game. It was in January, so it was actually 1994. The Chiefs beat the Steelers and then the Houston Oilers to reach the AFC Championship. The Oilers no longer exist (well, they now exist as the Tennessee Titans), and they played the game on Astroturf in the Astrodome (surprisingly, not extinct, but not in use). What’s more depressing than any other factoid I can pull out about the last Chiefs’ playoff win was I was 9 when it happened, and the Chiefs have only won THREE playoff games in my lifetime.
This season I don’t think the Chiefs really have a defense that is good enough – at least good enough to reach a Super Bowl – but they have the potential to become dominant in the next few years if they draft well and the young guys keep getting better. That’s why Cassel’s performance on Sunday is so important. Not because of this season, but because he needs to develop the confidence – and also gain his teammate’s and coach’s confidence – so that they all believe he’s the guy who can lead this team to a Super Bowl someday.
Some might point to the numbers and say Cassel already proved this season that he’s good enough. But if you dig a little deeper in those numbers, there’s reason for concern.
The Chiefs played the easiest schedule in the NFL, and Cassel benefited.
Against defenses ranked in the bottom 10 this year (eight games), here are Cassel’s numbers: 160-249 (64.3 percent); 2,049 yards; 22 TDs; 1 INT; QB rating of 118.2. Projected over 16 games, that’s 320-498 (64.3 percent), 4,098 yards, 44 TDs and 2 INTs. That’s Hall of Fame worthy.
But when you take Cassel’s numbers against the top 22 defenses in the league (the other seven games), it is reason for concern.
Here are those numbers: 102-201 (50.7 percent), 1,067 yards (152.4 yards per game), 5 TDs, 6 INTs, QB rating of 62.1.
The only quarterback with a worse quarterback rating this season than 62.1 was Jimmy Clausen at 58.4.
In the playoffs, you’re usually facing some of the game’s best defenses (the Ravens are ranked 10th), and Jimmy Clausen at quarterback certainly isn’t good enough to get the job done.
The fact that Cassel was so good consistently against the bad defenses proved that he has at least some ability and he’s a legitimate NFL quarterback. Bad quarterbacks, like Clausen, are not even good against bad defenses. But a legitimate quarterback is what the Chiefs have always had – other than Montana – and legitimate has never been good enough.
To win a Super Bowl, the recipe usually involves a top-tier quarterback. Here’s a list of the quarterback who have won a Super Bowl since 1990: Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Kurt Warner, John Elway, Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Mark Rypien, Phil Simms and Montana.
Johnson, Dilfer, Rypien and Simms, who was a two-time Pro Bowler, are the only quarterbacks who are retired* and not in the Hall of Fame. Eli is the only current quarterback who will probably not make the Hall of Fame (unless the HOF confuses him with his brother).
*Favre hasn’t officially retired yet. Has he? Or does it matter?
Maybe Cassel can pull off a Dilfer, which is the role he was playing early in the season by not making mistakes and just managing games. But the Chiefs have had plenty of Dilfers before, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 19(FREAKING)94.
So, yeah, Cassel needs to be good this weekend for the Chiefs to win a playoff game. He needs to be good this weekend for the Chiefs to eventually get to a Super Bowl, and not just be good enough to reach the playoffs and then flame out (a la the Peterson years). And he needs to be good enough for the sanity of an entire city.
NeedISayMoore.com mathematician Ryan Cantrell contributed to this blog piece.