Cassel Is Failing Chiefs

It's easy to blame the Chiefs' terrible pass defense or rotten, handicapped offensive line play for Sunday's 37-7 blowout at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. But you can do that every week. At some point you have to call out the highest-paid player, so it's time to lay it at the feet of Matt Cassel.

There's no question Cassel shares some of the blame for the Chiefs' 1-6 start. He blew a game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 2 but it was nothing compared to what transpired inside a soggy Arrowhead Stadium Sunday. The Chiefs had 19 net passing yards and zero passing first downs at halftime against the Chargers, and even that total was "inflated" by a two-minute drill. At one point, Cassel had dropped back to pass eight times and completed one pass for a grand total of two net yards.

When it was all over, Kansas City had only three passing first downs despite Cassel's 25 attempts. His 25.3 quarterback rating, a horrifying statistic in a vacuum, appears even more revolting when you consider that it was the lowest rating a Chiefs' starter has posted since Tyler Thigpen melted down in Atlanta a year ago.

Yes, we're now revisiting a level of incompetence from KC's passing game that we haven't seen since Herm Edwards was trying to save his job by throwing Thigpen to the wolves.

Sunday's game was that bad. The Chiefs appeared to be a team that cannot field even an average passing attack, and this came at home against a San Diego team with a mediocre secondary and a terrible pass rush. I'm not sure Shaw-knee Merriman touched Cassel, but it really didn't matter.

As soon as his pocket became congested against the Chargers, Cassel looked lost. The play was dead. And when Cassel did throw, the results were less than inspiring. Specifically, his accuracy hit the bottom of the barrel against the Chargers.

In the second quarter, Cassel threw an awful pass that was intended for newly-activated wide receiver Lance Long. It was underthrown and nearly intercepted. On the next play, Long got a step deep on his coverage, but once again the pass was underthrown and Long was forced to reach back awkwardly in a failed attempt to catch it.

Were they difficult throws? Sure. But Cassel is the highest-paid Chief. He's supposed to be a difference maker. He failed to make a difference. The Chiefs, already down 14-0 at that point, couldn't really afford to punt again, but had to because they simply couldn't move the ball through the air. At all.

A few plays later, Cassel badly skipped a ball to a wide-open Dwayne Bowe, who would have picked up a first down. It wasn't a difficult throw, and Cassel had a perfect pocket to pass from. He just dumped the ball right in the dirt. Is there really any excuse for that from the highest-paid Chief?

But what really stings is, at one point, Kansas City had a chance to get back in the ball game. They were down 13 points, had been out-gained 2-to-1, and Arrowhead Stadium was a drippy, depressing, scene. But on their first possession of the third quarter, the Chiefs had scored, then KC's defense had stuffed San Diego's offense, and all the momentum was on Matt Cassel's side.

It was at that point that he dropped back to throw, stepped up and heaved one of those long, graceful, arcing spirals you always see in slow motion on NFL Films highlights. For a brief second, Chiefs fans may have seen Jamaal Charles breaking open, seen the ball sailing through the air and thought – this is it! Matt Cassel is about to throw a 65-yard touchdown pass, no one can run down Charles, and this place is about to go crazy! We're back in this game!

And then the pass fluttered off to the right as Charles made a hopeless stab at an over-the-shoulder miracle catch. The ball thumped into the wet grass and slipped away, just like the opportunity.

Cassel blew it, and he blew the next play when he badly overthrew a wide, wide open Bobby Wade streaking down the right sideline for what was, at least, a 20-yard gain and potentially a touchdown. The pass wasn't even close. Wade would have needed a last-second gust of hurricane-force wind to catch up to it.

And that was it. On third and long, Cassel scrambled for two meaningless yards, the Chiefs punted, the Chargers torched KC's defense for another long touchdown. Game over.

The Chiefs had missed their window of opportunity to get back in the game. When you're a 1-6 team, those chances don't come along that often. The highest-paid player on the team has to seize the moment. Matt Cassel failed to do that, and right now he is failing the Chiefs. His performance Sunday was as bad as anything we saw from Thigpen a year ago, and could have been worse. Cassel's three interceptions could have easily been five. If Bowe doesn't make a sensational play on the end-zone boundary, the Chiefs don't even score.

Chiefs fans love to laugh at Oakland's JaMarcus Russell, who is completing only 45.6 percent of his passes. But Cassel is now keeping him company, just four spots above at 54.8 percent. Cassel is 34th in the NFL in yards per attempt (note that there are only 32 starting quarterbacks) and the Chiefs have the league's worst third-down conversion rate.

Are the questions that arose around Cassel last season in New England still an issue? It's hard to argue otherwise. The Patriots had a woeful deep passing game a year ago and Sunday, Charles might as well have been Randy Moss getting wide open down the field only to watch the ball sail over his head. There are no shortage of plays where Cassel holds onto the ball and takes a sack, and at this rate, after taking 47 sacks with the Patriots and already another 23 this season, he may wind up as the most-sacked quarterback in the league over the last two seasons. These are not trends that should be ignored.

The saddest part may be that at times, Cassel actually shows signs of being the franchise quarterback he's paid to be. Sunday, he made a spectacular throw to Long that would have gone for a touchdown had it not been dropped. He threw gorgeous passes to Bowe for clutch, game-tying touchdowns against the Raiders and Cowboys. He has protected the ball well, been a good teammate, played with heart and determination and said all the right things.

But the Chiefs are 1-6, have one of the league's worst passing games, and here we are comparing Cassel to Thigpen and Russell. After Sunday, it's hard to argue he hasn't been a giant disappointment. The Chiefs had a chance, if only for the briefest of moments, and Cassel failed them. His contract demands success.

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