Chiefs Need More From Cassel

We can't blame the Chiefs' defense, running game, receivers or special teams this week. In a 17-10 loss, on the road, against a division champion, those facets of the Kansas City Chiefs played well enough to win.

For perspective on how well Kansas City's defense played Sunday, consider that the Bengals' 274-yard offensive output was their second-lowest total at home all season. Only the defense of the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers came into Cincinnati and held the Bengals to fewer yards, and the Chiefs actually held the Bengals to a lower yards-per-play average.

It would be easy to malign KC's defense for Cincy's 98-yard, game-winning drive, but can we really ask for more from Clancy Pendergast and his parade of misfit defenders? The fact we're comparing them favorably with one of the league's top perennial defensive powerhouses says it all.

The running game? Jamaal Charles was impressive against the Bengals' third-ranked run defense, darting his way to 102 yards. Again, like KC's defense, Charles' effort stacked up well against past Cincinnati opponents. Only one other back had gone over the century mark against the Bengals this season. LaDainian Tomlinson, Ray Rice, even the great Adrian Peterson couldn't crack 100. We can't ask for anything more from a second-year running back.

Shockingly, KC's receivers weren't a total embarrassment Sunday. Instead of wilting against one of the league's better young cornerback tandems, Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers got open. Bowe recorded a season-high nine catches and just one drop. It was the only drop of the game from any Kansas City wide receiver. Again, can we really ask for more?

No. Most of the Chiefs played well enough to beat the Bengals. So why did they lose? We can't blame Todd Haley, who shelved his fourth-down gambling for a week and inspired a 3-11 team to play way over their heads against superior talent in their first road game in a month.

It's obvious at this point. A week after his best game of the season, Matt Cassel held the Chiefs back in Cincinnati. And it's more than just the interceptions, which could be excused if Cassel was a consistent playmaker. While he made two horrible throws, it was the other 35 that proved Cassel can't afford to turn the ball over even once.

You want to know why Haley's offense couldn't even march it's way past midfield, let alone score, for six straight possessions to start Sunday's game? It's because the Chiefs' passing offense doesn't function at a professional level past 15 yards. The trigger man has a chronic case of inaccuritis.

Cassel tried to hit Chambers off a bootleg early against the Bengals. The receiver was open for a gain of at least 20 yards but the pass was so off the mark that even with a dive, Chambers didn't come close to catching the pass. Later, a deep throw for Chambers down the left sideline appeared to be slightly underthrown. Cassel's first-half interception, of course, was a deep toss over the middle for Bowe, which was not just overthrown, but behind the receiver.

If Cassel hits just one of those throws, the Chiefs move into Bengals' territory and have a chance to put points on the board.

When the Chiefs finally did score Sunday, it sure wasn't because of any throw past 15 yards. While it's great that Cassel hit five of eight attempts on Kansas City's field-goal drive just before halftime, a larger issue was illustrated - every pass attempt, save one, was under 10 yards. The Chiefs ran a two-minute drill featuring the short pass.

Heck, it wasn't even a two-minute drill. Haley's offense, starting from their own 19-yard line, had one minute and 33 seconds to score. They responded to this situation by dinking and dunking their way down the field. Either the head coach is completely insane (a topic we've already covered this season), or he realizes his quarterback has limitations.

Unfortunately for Cassel and his teammates, the rest of the league realizes it, too. Defenders camp short routes against the Chiefs like the entire field is in the red zone. As bad as his two interceptions were Sunday, Cassel easily could have had two more. His lack of arm strength only magnifies this issue. Brett Favre can get away with a moment's hesitation on a short pass. Cassel can't afford that luxury.

There's absolutely no reason to fear KC's deep passing game despite the fact Chambers and Bowe are more than capable of threatening a defense deep. Chambers has the speed to separate. Bowe can jump with the best of them. Cassel is holding them back.

You want evidence? Cassel had Chambers open for a touchdown at the end of Sunday's third quarter, but only succeeded in getting his receiver killed with a high throw. Later he underthrew Chambers on another deep pass, ending the game with his second interception. At some point between those two throws, he hit Tim Castille with a gorgeous 20-yard touchdown pass, but is that enough?

Not at Cassel's price tag. He's being paid enough that we should expect gorgeous throws instead of being surprised by them. Yep, he's battling with a nasty case of inaccuritis, and it's definitely chronic. In New England, Cassel handicapped Randy Moss, who one year later has exceeded what he did last season in every way – more catches, more yards, more touchdowns.

Here's the frustrating part – we've been down this road before. A year ago, Tyler Thigpen's downfield passing was a wing and a prayer. But the pathetic reality is that even Thigpen was more productive than Cassel. The Chiefs' passing game doesn't function past 15 yards? That was kind. Past 10 yards, Thigpen bests Cassel in every category – yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions, quarterback rating.

Why did the Chiefs need to pay Cassel $63 million if one year later we're still talking about the third-string quarterback of the Miami Dolphins?

More importantly, how does Cassel stack up against quarterbacks who are actually playing this year? It's not pretty. Forget about comparisons to any of the league's top 10 quarterbacks. In fact, when discussing the issue of Cassel's downfield passing, he doesn't even come in at an average level. David Garrard looks good compared to Cassel.

Cassel's completion percentage on throws past 10 yards (36.9 percent) sits him comfortably among marquee names like Mark Sanchez (42.1), Josh Freeman (38.1), Jake Delhomme (33.6), Brady Quinn (30.1) and Matthew Stafford (28.0). Unlike Cassel, however, Delhomme is on the bench, and Quinn has managed to throw only two interceptions while misfiring down the field.

Because he has turned the ball over so many times amid his errant downfield tosses, Cassel is now rubbing shoulder pads with rookie quarterbacks. So the question must be repeated: Why did the Chiefs need to pay Cassel $63 million? Any rookie quarterback could have performed at a similar level, only with more room to grow.

What does Haley think?

"I think this quarterback is continuing to make strides," he said.

Really? Cassel, the quarterback who has eight interceptions in his last four games, is making strides? The Chiefs are averaging almost 120 yards rushing per game since Jamaal Charles took over the starting role, but struggle to score even 20 points unless they face the Cleveland Browns. In the last three weeks, Kansas City's awful defense held two opponents to 17 points or less, but the Chiefs lost both games.

At some point the Chiefs have to hold Cassel accountable for his lousy play. It doesn't mean much right now, in Week 16 of a season that's going nowhere, but what happens against a division champion in the playoffs? What happens when KC's running game, defense, special teams and receivers play well enough to win with something on the line?

Does Cassel magically transform into a beautiful butterfly? Right now he's an ugly, but expensive, caterpillar.

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