The New England Patriots traded Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs. Everyone knew the Patriots would eventually be trading Matt Cassel but the trade of Mike Vrabel was a bit of a shock. Personally I am rather disappointed that the Patriots didn’t get me more than a 2nd round draft pick from the Chiefs. In fact, I am right down flummoxed by it. It seems like Cassel would be worth much more than a 2nd round pick when you still have teams out there desperate for a quarterback in a free agent market that is extremely thin. But at least we got something after using the franchise tag on Cassel.
Based on reports from Adam Schefter on NFL.com it sounds like there was quite a bit of interest and some possible three way trades in the works with moves putting Cassel in Denver and Cutler in either Tampa Bay or Detroit, both in desperate need of quarterbacks. What was a surprise to me was the Minnesota Vikings didn’t take a serious run at Matt Cassel. He doesn’t fit in as well with their offensive scheme as he does in Kansas City, but he has a far better shot of being successful in Minnesota than a Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson.
The move for Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs make perfect sense and Kansas City is a great landing spot for Matt Cassel for several reasons.
First, he performs better in the shotgun. New head coach and former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley has an offensive scheme that fits Cassel’s abilities extremely well. He relies much more heavily on the shotgun and the passing game, and I can see Cassel having a very good chance to be successful in Kansas City.
Secondly, he has an excellent young receiver in Dwayne Bowe to throw to. Bowe is one of the best receivers in the NFL but has been overshadowed by the poor record of the Kansas City Chiefs the pat few years. He also has the Hall of Fame bound tight end Tony Gonzalez to throw to. While Gonzalez wanted to be traded last year, it looks like he will stay in Kansas City. The signing of Matt Cassel should make him happier. And while I think Larry Johnson will likely be cut or traded, if the Chiefs can put together some serviceable running backs to keep defenses honest, the offense has a chance to make significant improvements next year.
The trade of Mike Vrabel was a shock to me. Vrabel has been a team leader and a mainstay on a defense that won three Super Bowls. It always hurts to see players you admire that have been with the team for so long get traded or cut. But that is the NFL in the era of free agency. I will miss Vrabel and root for him to do well, unless he plays the Patriots.
The trade of Vrabel signals that the Patriots are finally going in the direction of getting younger and faster on defense. The past few years Patriots fans have worried a great deal about the aging of the defense, especially at the linebacker position. It will be interesting to see what other off-season moves the Patriots make.
Currently the most high profile signings for the Patriots are Fred Taylor from Jacksonville and Chris Baker from the Jets. It will be interesting to see what else they will do this offseason.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether Matt Cassel can be solid staring quarterback in the NFL for a team other than the Patriots. Some think he can, but others think he will be the next Scott Mitchell, who had an excellent season replacing Dan Marino after he tore his Achilles tendon, but then was a complete flop in Detroit.
There are several reasons why I think Matt Cassel will be a solid starting quarterback in the NFL.
The clearest indication that Matt Cassel has a lot of potential as a starter is the way he improved over the course of last season. In a lot of ways he was a real mess at the beginning of the season. He had what I call the “Rob Johnson” disease. He held the ball too long instead of throwing it away or making a quick decision on a throw. As a result he took big hits, took too many sacks, turned the ball over, or lost yards. Only bad things happen when a quarterback holds the ball too long. He also tended to run the ball too soon instead of waiting for a play to develop. And while he was accurate on longer throws, he was terrible with his accuracy in the red zone.
Thankfully, for Patriots fans, he drastically improved over the course of the season. If you look at the first six games of the regular season, Matt Cassel was not a disaster at quarterback, but had he not improved from his aforementioned proclivities the New England Patriots would not have had an 11-5 record. Cassel had maybe his worst outing of the season in a blowout loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 6, where he exhibited every single one of his bad habits.
After the San Diego game Cassel improved rapidly. His decision making was quicker and he was getting rid of the ball faster. He wasn’t taking as many sacks. He threw the ball away when he should have and he ran the ball when he should have. His accuracy was also more consistent, although at times he continued to struggle in the red zone, although even here he improved.
Since Matt Cassel had never started a game since high school it is not very surprising he struggled with regular season game speed and decision making at the start of the season. Any quarterback that showed the kind of poise and improvement over the course of the season that Matt Cassel did can be a top notch starter in the league.
Matt Cassel also showed a lot of leadership. He stayed positive and poised despite replacing Tom Brady, who many consider to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Just imagine the kind pressure and microscope Cassel was under. And he handled it very, very well. He also handled the criticism heaped on him during the early parts of the season for his mistakes. He didn’t get down on himself and just continued to improve.
Cassel also played well under big game pressure. Two of New England’s biggest losses, to the Colts and Jets, were not at all Cassel’s fault. In the second Jets game that the Patriots lost in overtime, Cassel had a brilliant second half but his teammates fumbled the ball away and dropped easy passes for first downs, preventing New England from winning the game outright in regulation. But for a coin flip going the Jets way in overtime, Matt Cassel, with is over 400 yards passing, may have brought the Patriots back from a 24-13 halftime deficit. Cassel also played an excellent game against the Oakland Raiders after losing his father. And while admittedly with a rather weak schedule, the Patriots closed out the season with four straight wins.
Finally, the coaches showed a lot of confidence in Matt Cassel. By the second half of the season the playbook had clearly opened up for Cassel, showing the coaches’ confidence that he could get the job done in the passing game.
And there is no way the Patriots give Matt Cassel the franchise tag if they don’t think he will be a good starting quarterback in the league. They will undoubtedly trade Cassel, but if they thought they could not get a good deal for him at his over 14 million dollar salary, they would have simply let him become a free agent. And that speaks volumes for a team that is known for its adept handling of talent. And if reports of Brady’s recovery are not true, there is no way they tie up that kind of salary cap space for a quarterback they don’t believe can get them to the Super Bowl.
Now it certainly is possible that Matt Cassel goes to another team and flops. It is really difficult at the quarterback position to know how a player might fare under another system, with new coaches and teammates. But I don’t believe that will happen. While he might not end up being elite like a Manning or Brady, he definitely, right now, is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and could make a big difference for a playoff caliber team in need of a good quarterback like the Minnesota Vikings, or a bad team trying to rebuild like a San Francisco 49’ers or Kansas City Chiefs.
New York Jets over New England Patriots, 34-31 (OT)
For much of this game both offenses pretty much moved the ball at will against the opposing team’s defense (third quarter excepted). The key difference in the game was superior special teams play on kickoff returns by the Jets, poor red zone offense by the Patriots, and three miscues on offense by the Patriots in the third quarter that cost them scoring opportunities. Even though the Patriots got down 24-6 late in the first half, they didn’t lay down and made a real game of it. But in the end, the Patriots, as they did against the Colts, lost a game they could have, and should have won. It is very unusual to see the Patriots beat themselves. For Patriots fans used to better, it’s also disheartening.
The first half of the game was a disaster defensively for the Patriots. The Jets scored on every single drive they started: two touchdowns, a field goal, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Meanwhile the Patriots were in the red zone twice and traded field goals for touchdowns with the Jets until a nice last minute drive to close the half with a touchdown to close the gap 24-13. Matt Cassel seems to have a lot of trouble in the red zone, and in fact has the lowest percentage in the NFL for red zone touchdown passes. He threw a terrible pass to Randy Moss in the end zone that forced us to settle for three instead of six. Cassel had a decent first half but he was often inaccurate with his throws toward the sideline.
The third quarter was one of the most frustrating quarters of football I have watched. The Patriots defense finally stepped up and stopped the Jets and the offense was moving the ball well. But miscues by the Patriots offense turned a quarter that could have been a sterling come back into an embarrassing and uncharacteristic series of mistakes. First, during a nice drive Ben Watson fumbled the ball and he wasn’t even hit! Missed scoring opportunity. On the next drive Dan Koppen snaps the ball in shotgun formation when Cassel wasn’t ready resulting in a 23 yard loss and eventual punt. Missed scoring opportunity. Then, on another nice drive, on third and short, Jabbar Gaffney (maybe he should shorten his name to just GAFF), drops a nicely thrown pass that would have resulted in a first down. Missed scoring opportunity. There are a lot of reasons the Jets won the game, but those three plays really cost us a good chance to pull out a win. We finally scored a touchdown late in the third quarter and a two point conversion turned it into a 24-21 Jets lead. Game on!
The fourth quarter reverted back to pretty much what the first half looked like. The Patriots were able to tie the game at 24-24, but lousy kickoff coverage on a short kick gave the Jets good field position and the defense once again let the Jets march down the field on a long scoring drive that ate up the clock and left us in a 31-24 hole. And what do we do on our possession? End up taking a sack and having to the punt the ball. But miracles of miracles we stopped the Jets and Matt Cassel lead a desperation drive with no timeouts with less than two minutes to go which resulted in an amazing touchdown catch by Randy Moss. After the extra point the game was tied 31-31. OVERTIME.
I knew going into overtime that whoever won the coin toss would win the game barring a turnover. So it was a 50-50 chance. Too bad. The Jets got the toss, ran the ball down our throats, and won on a short field goal. A friend and fellow Patriots fanatic who I was watching the game with suggested we should go for a two point conversion at the end of the game to win it instead of taking the 50-50 chance on the coin toss (we both agreed whoever won the coin toss would win the game). Given the results and the way our offense was playing, I wonder. I wouldn’t have gone for the two-point conversion but what do you think:
Other Observations about the Game
Jets Fans: My “friends” – and I’ll use that term loosely this week – who happen to be Jets fans, were unusually obnoxious leading up to this game. I guess because it has been a long time since they have had something to cheer for. I dread to hear their gloating this week and their praise of Eric “Traitor” Manweenie and Brett Farve, who has made a joke out of his career with the Packers with his actions this year.
Holding Penalty on Mike Vrabel on Jets Last Touchdown Drive: On third and short for the Jets in the fourth quarter the Patriots appeared to stop the Jets and force them to settle for a short field goal. Instead they got first and goal from point blank range. I am not suggesting bad officiating costs us the game, well maybe I am. I saw the replay several times and that was an egregiously horrible call that all but gave the Jets a touchdown instead of a field goal. That could have been the deciding factor in the game. I saw the replay several times and if that was defensive holding then the NFL should just fold and disband all the teams because you would have to call holding on almost every single short passing play. I am sick of seeing refs make such stupid bad calls in critical situations.
Matt Cassel: Matt Cassel has demonstratively improved as the season has progressed and played an excellent ball game for the most part. He did struggle with accuracy at times, especially on sideline passes. And his deep balls were way off target and that really takes away from our advantages on offense with Randy Moss in the mix. He clearly has an NFL caliber arm as his deep balls are mostly overthrown not underthrown. It’s the timing and accuracy that are off. His red zone passes are also a bit problematic and an area the team needs to improve on. Cassel still has a way to go in these areas, but overall I am very impressed with his improvement over the year. He showed a great deal of leadership in the second half and his last touchdown drive was, well, Brady like.
Game Plan: This game, unlike the Colts game, isn’t on Belichick or his coaching staff. They abandoned the running game when they got behind and had a game plan that allowed us to move the ball up and down on the field with ease for much of the game. It was the aforementioned mistakes by players that nixed us in this game.
Defense: If our defense could play like they did in the third quarter all the time we would really have something going. But for the most part they were just eaten up by the Jets offense. I don’t know if it is injuries, our weak defensive backfield, or something else, but we have to do better than we did against the Jets! Jerrod Mayo, our rookie linebacker out of Tennessee was phenomenal. I read an article that said he was overrated. That is laughable. This guy may turn out to be a dominant defense player barring injury.
Special Teams Play: Our kickoff coverage was horrible all game long and constantly gave the Jets good field position and handed them one touchdown. This late in the season I just don’t understand that. That was the one key area were we clearly lost this game. Thus I give you the MVP of the game.
MVP: Leon Washington, KR/RB, New York Jets
ONE MORE NOTE: LAST NIGHT WAS TROY BROWN NIGHT, ONE OF THE ALL TIME GREAT PATRIOTS. You can read my tribute to Troy Brown here: