No, Cassel isn't about to start raining touchdowns on NFL secondaries or firing lasers halfway across the field every week. He's not headed to the Pro Bowl. Cassel is the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL because only he has the power to destroy the Kansas City Chiefs.
There's no sense in denying it anymore – the Chiefs are a damn good football team. But everything Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have built in the last 21 months is in jeopardy right now. The reconstructed offensive line, the league-leading rushing attack, Romeo Crennel's defensive revolution – it can all be rendered null and void by the lone efforts of a single man. All it takes is a few flicks of Cassel's right wrist and the whole thing implodes.
Yes, the Chiefs are 5-2 and leading the AFC West. Unfortunately, winning is a great deodorant. Something in Kansas City stinks.
It's Cassel, and he's holding back the Chiefs from their true potential. Sunday's overtime dogfight with Buffalo made it obvious. Kansas City rushed for 274 yards, held the Bills to 10 points and still needed five quarters to win.
For the record, only four NFL teams have rushed for at least 250 yards in a game this year – the Chiefs, Raiders, Jets and Texans. But only one team scored fewer than 34 points while doing so – the Chiefs, who required overtime to limp their way to a meager 13 points.
Let's take a look at the teams who have rushed for 200 or more yards in a game this season – the Chiefs, Raiders, Giants, Saints, Bears, Jaguars, Ravens, Texans, Jets, Falcons, Patriots, Steelers and Titans. Not only are the Chiefs the only team on that list to score fewer than 23 points in such a game, they are the only team to lose a game while running for at least 200 yards.
Cassel has been disappointing
on third down.
The problem: They can't do it every week.
The bigger problem: Even when they do it, there's no guarantee Cassel won't screw it up.
Sunday's game against Buffalo is all the proof you need. Facing a defense that hasn't been able to get off the field on third down all year long, the Chiefs converted a pathetic 26 percent of their third-down attempts (4/15). The sad thing is two of those conversions were running plays, and a third was a screen pass.
That's right. Cassel went five quarters against one of the NFL's worst defenses and converted one third down on his own merits. Actually, to be fair, he was assisted by Jamaal Charles, who pulled down a high throw and muscled his way just past the sticks for a seven-yard gain.
We shouldn't be surprised, however, because the Chiefs have been terrible on third down all year and now rank 24th. Cassel is completing just 51.8 percent of his passes on third down, which ranks near the bottom of the league with prolific passers such as Derek Anderson (51.1), Mark Sanchez (49.3), Jay Cutler (51.2) and Donovan McNabb (45). Not surprisingly, Anderson, Cutler and McNabb also lead three of the NFL's worst third-down and overall offenses.
It's interesting to note that Cassel's inept third-down play completely separates him from the league's highest-rated quarterbacks, which he is conveniently placed among thanks to a 90.4 passer rating. His third-down completion percentage is a full 4.3 points lower than his closest Top 10 competitor, Philip Rivers.
Todd Haley and Charlie Weis realize this, fortunately, which is why they repeatedly hand the ball to running backs on third and long. It's becoming more and more apparent they don't trust their quarterback farther than he can throw them, so to speak.
Why should Chiefs fans?
The truly scary part of this – the real danger of The NFL's Most Dangerous Quarterback – is that there are fans and media promoting the idea that Cassel is capable of taking the Chiefs somewhere. Every week, after Kansas City's running game and defense churns out another win, you'll find people around the blogosphere patting Cassel on the back, talking about his great quarterback rating or the fact he's only thrown three interceptions. This week Inside the NFL co-hosts Phil Simms and Warren Sapp hopped on Cassel's bandwagon.
"I always judge quarterbacks like this," Simms said Wednesday night. "When you drop back to throw it, you get so many opportunities during a game, if they're open. [Cassel] hits those open guys at a very high percentage just like the top quarterbacks in the NFL."
"The man is driving the bus at times, he's not just riding it," said Sapp. "You can't just say he's riding the bus. Cassel makes plays for this team to go out and win games."
Will Cassel survive the Raiders?
All Simms and Sapp had to do was watch their own show's highlights. They would have seen an exasperated Todd Haley bemoaning Cassel's inability to throw a deep ball intended for Dwayne Bowe on time, resulting in a blown opportunity for a touchdown. That's just another day at the office for Danger Matt.
But regardless of the reasons for his support, it's official now – The Matt Cassel Propaganda Machine is fully functional. Forget KC's running game and defense. If the NFL media starts propping up Cassel and validating the opinions of Chiefs fans who desperately want to believe he's Tom Brady 2.0, I don't know where this goes, but it scares me.
What I do know is this – the Chiefs are headed to Oakland for a game of monstrous, epic proportions. Godzilla vs. King Kong figures to be the halftime show the way this shindig is shaping up. The Raiders are trying to claw their way back to relevancy for the first time in almost a decade, and Kansas City is standing in their way. Oakland head coach Tom Cable has whipped the Bay Area into a frenzy this week and Al Davis may just wash his hair for this game. At some point, I fully expect Ben Davidson to charge into the Chiefs' broadcast booth and spear Len Dawson.
With matchups against Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Miami remaining, not to mention a trip to Arrowhead Stadium, Sunday is essentially a playoff game for Oakland, and their most important contest since Super Bowl XXXVII. The Chiefs are walking into hell, and it's hotter than ever.
The Raiders will bring the AFC's best pass rush (Oakland is #1 in sacks per pass attempt) and, most likely, a sold-out, spiked, and painted-up crowd out for Chiefs blood thundering down on Cassel's head. Oakland knows he's Kansas City's weak spot. They'll attack him. If he's anything close to the quarterback he's supposed to be, he'll play his best game of the season.
For the record: I don't believe Cassel is capable of winning this game.
It's going to be war. The Chiefs need a general, not a little drummer boy who hands the ball off to the real soldiers.