MMQB Mail: Cassel doing OK job for Pats and an untapped QB market
More evidence why the league shouldn't expand to 18-game season
Matt Cassel's numbers compare favorably to Tom Brady's in 2001
Readers share ideas on improving Thanksgiving games, trade deadline
FOXBORO, Mass. -- You may have seen my screed on injuries Monday, and how senseless it is for the league to add one or two games to a season already filled with bodies laying on sidelines everywhere. So here I came to the Broncos-Patriots Monday-nighter, and there was all-world cornerback Champ Bailey battling all-world receiver Randy Moss. Bailey was getting the better of it through most of the first half until, turning to cover Moss downfield late in the second quarter, he pulled up short and reached for his groin. That was it for Bailey. Pulled groin, from the looks of it.
When I ran into Denver coach Mike Shanahan leaving Gillette Stadium early this morning, he looked grim when I brought up Bailey. "Might be bad,'' Shanahan said.
There goes the league's best corner, on the heels of injuries to the league's best offensive and defensive players (by AP vote) in 2007, Tom Brady and Bob Sanders, on the heels of injuries that have forced 20 Pro Bowl players from 2007 to miss games this year. How can the league be thinking of playing more games that count? It's a recipe for disaster.
I digress. Time to write some football. I just wanted to remind you that injuries never go away, and to expand the regular-season schedule by two games for, say, $10 million per team in 2010 would be a colossal mistake because of the potential for so many stars to be hurt in the 18th game and KO'd for the playoffs.
I came here to get my first live look at Matt Cassel. Relatively speaking, the view was mostly positive from New England's surprisingly one-sided 41-7 win over the Broncos. Cassel is being asked to be almost exactly what Brady was asked to do when Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe seven seasons ago -- don't lose the game. Last night Cassel completed 18-of-24 mostly risk-free passes, for 185 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He did not throw one deep ball; by my count, his deepest pass traveled 14 yards past the line of scrimmage.
I didn't like two things. Cassel waits too long for plays to develop and subjects himself to too many sacks (six Monday night). He already has been sacked more times (25) than Brady was all of last season.
It doesn't help that his line has been leaky, especially right guard Billy Yates, subbing for the injured Stephen Neal. Yates allowed a second-quarter sack to Ebenezer Ekuban that was so stunning in its quickness that Cassel was sacked while still dropping back. It's clear that Cassel, after not starting a football game at quarterback for nine years, has to get quicker at processing information.
Second fault: Randy Moss has told Cassel repeatedly: "Just give me an opportunity." Cassel's trying, but it's a struggle, and Moss' opportunities are coming mostly on short catch-and-runs; Moss turned one of those into a touchdown Monday night. He had two TD catches on the night. He could have had a third.
In the second quarter, before Bailey got hurt, he was shadowing Moss across the end zone. Cassel rolled right and tried to zing the ball into Moss' gut, but Bailey made a sprawling stab and knocked the ball away. I'm convinced Brady would have put some air under the ball and let Moss go up and make a catch, out of Bailey's grasp.
But I thought the positives outweighed those negatives. Cassel plays with a growing confidence. He is not shaken by the pass-rush, and you don't see him with happy feet. He throws well running right. He processes his route tree, though he needs to learn to get rid of the ball quicker. He doesn't lead his receivers consistently well all the time, but what do you expect from a player who last started in high school before replacing Brady?
I went back after the game and compared the young Brady to Cassel. These numbers -- for Brady's first six starts in 2001 and Cassel's first six games (he played the majority of the opener when Brady went down for the year) -- tell a remarkable story:
Eerie. And a good reason to think the Patriots have a heck of a chance to be playing January football without the best player in football.
Now for your e-mail.
NONE WHATSOEVER. From Matt Fugina, of Frisco, Texas: "With the holidays rapidly approaching, I was wondering if there has been any discussions over changing the Thanksgiving Day format. I understand the draw of the Cowboys, but let's face it, they have been more bad than good since their last Super Bowl win after the 1995 season. And the Lions continue to stink. Not worth watching. I know about tradition, etc., but it would be nice to see some changes in who plays every year. How about letting the two teams that played in the Super Bowl host a team from their conference? This way there would be the same amount of teams from the AFC and the NFC. And for the new third game, make it an AFC-NFC game that includes one of the teams that lost in one of the championship games from the previous year.''
Interesting concept, Matt. The league did discuss changing the format when it decided to implement the Thanksgiving Day night game. The fact is the league isn't willing, at least not now, to change the sites of the two day games -- Detroit and Dallas. The NFL likes the tradition of those two spots, and there's not a lot of sentiment to change it now that there is a Thursday night game with teams from all over the league hosting. Kansas City and Atlanta have hosted night games, with Philly doing the honors this year.
Tennessee will be a good draw on Thanksgiving Day, even though it's playing the lowly Lions. And Dallas is always a good draw because the Cowboys are ratings magnets. I don't see a problem with the way the league does turkey day.