What can we expect when #7 lines up under center this August 15 against the Houston Texans, under the bright lights at Arrowhead Stadium?
We know Cassel threw 21 touchdown passes, but where were those passes thrown? How accurate were they? How much pressure was Cassel under when he released the ball? Was he forced to scramble? Did a receiver bail him out? In an effort to answer those questions as best we can, and perhaps to define Cassel's strengths and weaknesses, over the next two months we'll take an in-depth look at some of his best games from 2009.
We won't over-analyze and look at every throw. But we'll look at Cassel's best plays and see how they stack up against his worst. We begin with his most impressive game to date, a 34-31 shootout against Brett Favre in Week 11 at Gillette Stadium.
Final Stat line: 30-51, 400 YDS, 3 TD, 0 INT, 62 RYDS
1st quarter – 8:01 – 3rd-and-1
This is a fairly short, routine throw over the middle that ends up being somewhat impressive because of pressure. Cassel's first two reads on this play (Kevin Faulk and Wes Welker) are completely covered, giving linebacker David Bowens enough time to apply some heat directly in Cassel's face.
Despite this, Cassel stands tall in the pocket and throws an accurate ball to a well-covered Benjamin Watson for a first down. He is hit as he throws because he takes the time to use the proper footwork, resetting his feet twice. Cris Collinsworth praises the well-executed completion.
2nd quarter – 13:24- 2nd-and-8
Quarterback mobility comes in handy when everyone is covered, as is the case on this play. Instead of holding the ball and allowing Shaun Ellis to sack him from the blindside, Cassel feels the pressure and accelerates through the pocket, heading for the first down marker. Not only does he get there, he breaks a tackle and puts his head down as if he's Larry Johnson. Those 230 pounds come in handy. Cassel also protects the ball well.
2nd quarter – 3:43- 2nd-and-10
There is no fear in Matt Cassel when he tucks the ball and decides to run. On this play, not only does he beat Kris Jenkins to the edge (almost like a running back), as he crosses the line of scrimmage he again refuses to slide. He ends up a yard short of the first-down marker after taking a decent hit (football secured) from Shaun Ellis.
Cassel's rare mobility came in handy against New York.
Jim Rogash - Getty
2nd quarter – 1:42- 1st-and-10
Here we see a great example of Cassel's accuracy. Jabar Gaffney runs a corner route and is covered well, but the ball arrives in the perfect spot – away from the defender, but tucked between the receiver and the sideline. Gaffney makes the catch and gets out of bounds, stopping the clock.
Cassel also showed perfect footwork on the play, an impressive feat with Kris Jenkins barreling down right on top of him.
2nd quarter – 0:20 - 3rd-and-10
Cassel makes up for the earlier squandered possession by connecting on a beautiful throw for a 19-yard touchdown. Gaffney is actually well-covered by Dwight Lowery, but the ball is thrown so perfectly, there is absolutely no play for the defensive back. All Gaffney has to do is reach up and pluck it out of the air.
More impressive than the pass might be how Cassel diagnosed the coverage. The Jets doubled both Randy Moss and Wes Welker on this play. Cassel wasted no time in even thinking about throwing to his best receivers, however, and went right to the single-covered option.
3rd quarter – 14:08 – 1st-and-10
Give Matt Cassel a perfect pocket, and he'll give you a perfect throw. On this play, the Patriots' line provides enough time for Wes Welker to work his way down the field and run a 15-yard out. This is the "deep out" that defines arm strength in the NFL, and Cassel answers any questions about his own arm by firing the ball in with just enough velocity to beat the closing safety.
3rd quarter – 1:57 – 2nd-and-2
The ability to improvise can turn a good player into a great player, and that's what Matt Cassel shows on this play. After thinking twice about testing Ty Law on the left side, Cassel brings the ball down as the pocket collapses. He stumbles as he tries to evade the pass rush.
At this point he might have thought about throwing the ball away. Instead, he turns on what little speed he has and scrambles to his right, tucking the ball as if he's about to take off down the field. At the last second, with a defender bearing down on him, Cassel brings the ball back out and sidearms it on the run it to Wes Welker, who turns a short pass into a gain of 29 yards. This is the definition of "making something out of nothing."
3rd quarter – 0:03 – 2nd-and-2
Given enough time, Matt Cassel eventually will find an open receiver, as he does on this play. New York's pass rush completely disappears and, perhaps fighting the urge to scramble, Cassel stays cool and looks down the field as Benjamin Watson improvises after running his assigned corner route. Cassel, after setting his feet, finds Watson with an accurate dart thrown right into the only open area on the field. The Patriots are back in the game, trailing 24-21 after a two-point conversion.
4th quarter – 0:08 – 2nd-and-10
Moss barely had to reach for Cassel's perfect game-tying touchdown pass.
Jim Rogash - Getty
There is little space to throw the ball into, and Cassel has no time to set his feet. Regardless, he throws a perfect spiral placed in absolutely the perfect spot – just beyond the reach of Law, tucked between Moss and the sideline. The pass is thrown at eye level, so there's no need for Moss to leave his feet, which could potentially make coming down in bounds a difficult proposition.
This is a throw that franchise passers make. As the saying goes, Cassel has fit the ball into a breadbox, bringing the Patriots back from an 18-point deficit to force overtime. This completion also makes Cassel the first player since 1970 to have 400 passing yards and 60 rushing yards in the same game.
2nd quarter – 9:56- 2nd-and-10
A poor throw costs the Patriots a potential touchdown. With Ty Law matched up on Randy Moss one-on-one, and no safety in the area, all Cassel has to do is throw a soft jump ball up and let Moss do what he does best. Unfortunately the pass is thrown too hard and too high, even for Moss. Cassel begs for a pass interference call, but the ball was uncatchable. New England settles for a field goal after a third-down incompletion.
2nd quarter – 2:38- 4th-and-3
On fourth down, you never want to take a sack, but that's what happens on this play. There is time for a quick throw before the pass rush arrives, but Cassel, instead of looking downfield, stares down the pass rush, tries to run and only ends up making the situation worse. Trailing 24-6, the Patriots squander a golden opportunity to get back in the game with a touchdown.
4th quarter – 11:38- 1st-and-10
Great quarterbacks almost never miss wide open receivers, and that's the sin Cassel commits on this play. With Randy Moss a full five yards behind Ahmad Carroll and open for a long touchdown, it was an easy throw. But on this play, despite perfect protection, Cassel couldn't deliver and overthrew Moss.
The significance of this play was compounded because the Patriots did not convert the next third down, and had to settle for a game-tying field goal. Had Cassel hit Moss for the go-ahead score, New England might've won in regulation instead of losing in overtime. But in the NFL, second chances are rare.
4th quarter – 3:04- 1st-and-10
Throwing interceptions in the clutch is about the last thing anyone wants to see from their quarterback, but unfortunately Cassel comes way too close for comfort here. With Kris Jenkins applying pressure right in his face, Cassel throws a terrible pass behind tight end Dave Thomas (who was open) and into the arms of a defensive back. Only good fortune prevents an interception, as the ball is dropped.
Next time on Cassel Chronicles: Matt Cassel leads the Patriots into Miami for a showdown with Chad Pennington and the Dolphins.