Scouting Matt Cassel: What to expect from the new Cowboys QB


This week the Cowboys announced their new starting quarterback will be Matt Cassel. What can we expect from the 33 year old journeyman?

Matt Cassel, just weeks after being acquired from Buffalo, has now been named the starting quarterback for the Cowboys coming off their bye. As a result, Brandon “check-down” Weeden will drop to back-up status as the Cowboys wait for Tony Romo to heal.

The Cowboys are Matt Cassel’s fifth NFL franchise in his now 11 seasons. Cassel, most famous for his 2008 season with the Patriots, has had an up-and-down NFL career. After leaving the Patriots, Cassel went on to play the next four seasons with Kansas City.

Cassel’s KC tenure had its own struggles as Cassel failed to start more than nine games in two of four seasons. With a career passer rating of 80.1, Cassel had his best seasons in 2008 and 2010 earning an 89.4 passer rating and a 93.0 passer rating respectively.

But enough about plain old statistics. Anyone can look those up and see that Matt Cassel is a statistically middle-of-the-road signal caller. Let’s take a look at Cassel’s strengths and weaknesses and see what to expect in week seven.

Looking specifically at Cassel’s best two aforementioned seasons, we see that Cassel thrived where Brandon Weeden struggled – the 10 to 19 yard range. Not only did Cassel post some of his best numbers from that range, but he spread the ball from the left side of the field to the right side of the field.

Similar to most NFL QBs (Brandon Weeden included), Cassel did most of his damage in the 0-9 yard range in the middle of the field. This range is a staple of the Cowboys’ offense, and while the Cowboys need to find a way to push the ball deep and to the outside, they can’t abandon the short middle.

Matt Cassel’s deep ball leaves something to be desired. When Cassel wasn’t throwing to Randy Moss, he struggled with his accuracy. In 2008, Cassel threw four interceptions (and only one touchdown) on passes in the middle over 20 yards. Cassel has the arm but doesn’t always have the accuracy or judgment on the big plays.

Pehaps Cassel’s greatest weakness is deciphering zone coverage in the middle of the field. He has the arm and accuracy to deliver those needed sideline passes in the intermediate range (a very tough task), but makes some poor throws into zone coverage in the middle of the field.

Like many QBs, Cassel performs a bit differently under pressure. And like many QBs, he performs at a lower level. At face value this may sound like a bad thing but considering Brandon Weeden was the polar opposite, this may be what the Cowboys need (Weeden couldn’t deliver the no-pressure passes).

The Cowboys boast one of the best offensive lines in football and with the promotion of rookie La’el Collins, the pass protection will surely be upgraded. According to Pro Football Focus, Cassel had a 100.3 NFL QB Rating when under no pressure in 2008 and 2010. When Cassel was under pressure he posted a rating of 46.2 in 2008 and 63.2 in 2010.

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The Cowboys have the type of line that can keep Matt Cassel relatively clean. When Weeden wasn’t facing pressure, he struggled with the added players in coverage. Teams figured this out and loaded the secondary rather than blitzing. They knew Weeden couldn’t beat them. Matt Cassel isn’t quite so easy neutralized…provided the offensive line can keep his jersey clean.

The keys to success for Matt Cassel are fairly simple:

  1. Get Dez Bryant Back – not surprisingly, Matt Cassel was a very different QB when armed with big-play weapons. Bryant will spread the defense and Cassel can push the ball to the outside and open things up for the running game.
  2. Pass-Protection – Matt Cassel is a better than average QB when not facing pressure. He’s a below average QB when facing pressure. The Cowboys need to keep the pocket clean for Matt Cassel without dedicating extra TEs and/or RBs to protection. Cassel still needs the check-down option but should be more diverse in his distribution.

Will the Cowboys be in better hands with Matt Cassel than they were with Brandon Weeden? If he limits his interceptions in the middle then the answer is yes. The Cowboys need to win right out of the gate in New York next week or the season could be lost before Romo even gets back. There’s no learning curve here. Cassel has to win right away and he needs his teammates to make that possible.

Next: Can the Cowboys offense improve?

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