Cowboys: Matt Cassel Becomes New Starting QB


The Dallas Cowboys have the decision that most thought was coming: Matt Cassel relieves primary backup Brandon Weden as starting quarterback.

Some things in life come as a complete surprise.

Others not so much.

The Dallas Cowboys have announced what’s been expected since a relatively non-competitive performance during a 30-6 loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday at AT&T Stadium. Let’s just say that there’s been zero indication that primary backup Brandon Weeden can win as many as one game under center in Dallas.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News reports that Dallas head coach Jason Garrett has informed the former Oklahoma State passer that Cassel will start for the Cowboys when the team returns to action following this weekend’s bye.

"Cassel will start against the New York Giants on Oct. 25 when the Cowboys come off their bye week. He’s enjoyed more success than Weeden on the NFL level, winning 33 regular-season games to just five for the former Oklahoma State quarterback, and has appeared in the Pro Bowl."

Did he say Pro Bowl?

Okay, I’m in.

Something clearly needed to change for a Cowboys offense that’s been in its worst shape in several seasons while trying to manage life without starter Tony Romo, who suffered another broken collar bone in the 3rd quarter of a Week 2 game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Frankly, Weeden was so ineffective in his three starts that even the national media took notice of the extreme limitations of a Cowboys offense that was supposed to be among the best in the NFL in 2015. One guy even Tweeted that Quincy Carter might be better than Weeden.

More from Dallas Cowboys

Well, Carter did lead the Cowboys to the playoffs is 2003, while I’m not certain that Weeden could lead this team out of the locker room.

While Weeden’s first half against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3 was actually pretty good, the second half – and every other half thereafter – was not acceptable at the NFL level.

In those three chances against the Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Patriots – two of those game sat home, mind you – Weeden hit receivers, excluding tight ends, running backs and opposing defensive backs, for a total of 22 completions for 307 yards. In terms of averages, that’s just 7 receptions per game for a paltry 102 yards per game.

Consider that one of those receptions to newly-acquired receiver Brice Butler went for 67 yards against the Saints on Week 4. Take that away and that average yards per game drops to just 80. Then, when you consider that 14 of those 22 catches by receivers were hauled in by slot receiver Cole Beasley, and the picture gets really ugly.

This leaves just eight catches by true, lined-up-wide pass catchers in three games for a total of 156 yards.


So, what can Cassel bring that Weeden couldn’t?

To start with, Cassel obviously has experience at the NFL level and has had far more success than Weeden has, which is saying very little.

Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden (3). Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Cassel was a career-backup quarterback at USC under both Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Leinart, now out of the NFL. He would finally make his mark as an NFL starting quarterback in 2008 when he took the reigns in New England following a season-opening knee injury to eventual football-deflator Tom Brady.

Even without their starting quarterback, the Pats were able to finish with a record of 11-5 while finishing second in the AFC East – New England did not qualify for the playoffs, however.

That run in New England paved the way for Cassel to get a shot as a starting quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs following a trade with New England the following season.

In short, Cassel has never proven to be a face-of-the-franchise quarterback, although he’s never really been surrounded with a very good football team beyond New England and – wait for it – Dallas.

And therein lies the question: Can Cassel perform at a level that simply helps the Cowboys win as many as two or three games from this point forward?

My early suggestion is yes, but keep in mind that a great deal of Weeden’s struggles came as a result of wide receiver Dez Bryant also being sidelined with a broken foot suffered in the season opener against the Giants. The Cowboys ‘X factor’ is still out, just to be clear.

Cassel will be charged, primarily, with proving that a Cowboys passing attack actually exists, despite the absence of the most meaningful skill position players from this Dallas offense a year ago.

Tall order?

You bet, but Cassel certainly has the experience factor going in his favor and he’s also led a team to the playoffs, doing so in 2010 following his second season in Kansas City.

No, you can’t say that all the tools are there for Cassel to succeed much more than Weeden did not, but the 33-year old veteran does have an offensive line that’s among the best units in the NFL. While the young wall of Cowboys blockers have struggled more this season than last, it’s quite clear that injuries and the subsequent differences in personnel and opposing strategies have played the biggest role there.

Cassel also inherits a defense that just added defensive end Greg Hardy, already with two sacks on the season, and middle linebacker Rolando McClain, already with a sack and 8 tackles. Rookie pass-rush specialist Randy Gregory could also return after the bye.

An improved defense might be the biggest factor contributing to Cassel’s chances over the next few games.

According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Bryant is targeting Week 7 for his return date, which would obviously coincide with Cassel’s first game as starting quarterback. Romo is believed to be game-ready for a pre-Thanksgiving meeting with the Miami Dolphins.

If those estimates are true, that leaves just four games until Romo returns. If Cassel can win at least two of those, the Cowboys would be 4-5 with Romo arriving for the remaining seven games on the schedule.

As of now, the Giants lead the NFC East over just a game over Dallas, and everyone else. If Cassel can deliver even modest results, the 2015 campaign is still very much alive.

Next: FC Dallas: Playoff Picture Heading Into Last Three Games

More from Sports Dallas Fort-Worth