Cowboys: Why Cassel Not Likely Better Than Weeden


The Dallas Cowboys will try to add a spark with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but he’s likely not to fair much better than Brandon Weeden did.

Sometimes change is a good thing. This is almost always true when the status quo just isn’t getting it done, which was precisely the case during Brandon Weeden‘s brief stint as the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

What’s to make anybody think that recently acquired Matt Cassel will bring anything more to an offense that’s both missing stars and also adding more new pieces?

Yes, adding La’el Collins to left guard in place on Ronald Leary could help significantly.

Running backs Christine Michael and Rod Smith might also bring physicality to a running game that’s been something less than it was last season.

Cassel, at least by himself, is quite likely to suffer from the same problems that Weeden did, although there is the chance that his previous experience as both a long-term backup and then featured passer in the NFL might soften some of those issues.

Still, the fact remains that Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is still out – I’m not a believer at all that he plays against the New York Giants next weekend – and that basically means that the blue print created by the New England Patriots last weekend will be carbon-copied by the rest of the NFL. Further, it doesn’t take too much in the way of talent to accomplish this either.

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Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News offers a great look this week at some of the pluses and minuses felt by the Cowboys during that blowout loss to the Patriots. Good was the pass rush brought by defensive Greg Hardy, but lousy was the pass protection offered to Weeden. The scheme employed by New England dictator Bill Belichick was simplistic to the point where every high school football coach in the state of Texas, and it’s a really big state, would have done the same thing.

In short, the Pats simply double teamed wide receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Jason Witten. Beyond that, it seemed like there were always nine New England defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in order to attack the Cowboys rushing attack – if we can actually use the term ‘attack.’

Honestly, Weeden never had much of a chance on numerous passing situations, especially without the presence of a volatile outlet like Lance Dunbar. Short passes to running backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden were more than acceptable to the Patriots seeing as how there was always plenty of defenders nearby to minimize the damage done there.

What breaks that up?

Outside passing and power formations that can enable it – it’s no accident that Collins, an offensive tackle at LSU, is entering the formula upfront. The Cowboys have to find some running lanes for sure, but even the best line of blockers in the universe isn’t going to hold up that well against eight-man fronts.

So, Cassel simply has to throw it deep, same thing so many were saying about Weeden, right?

The problem is that Cassel has to have both the time and the weapons available to do that, and he’s not going to have a whole lot to work with until Bryant returns, period. I do understand why Weeden took exception to being benched, especially now that the Cowboys are making changes that might have helped his performance.

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The reality is that right now there’s just not much to scare opposing defenses into backing out of the box and simply clamping down on those ‘security blanket’ targets like Witten and Beasley. Until that changes, it could be tough sledding for the Cowboys offense until ‘Weapon X’ gets back on the field, and it really seems like that will be closer to the expected return of Romo on or near Week 11.

Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News makes a keen observation regarding why exactly expectations are ratcheted up so high for backup quarterbacks in today’s day and age. He essentially points out that there’s no Steve Young waiting behind Joe Montana with the San Francisco 49ers like there was in the early 1990s. You just don’t see Danny White ready to step into a starting role for the Cowboys and maintain contention because Roger Staubach happened to retire at the end of the 1970s.

Having said that, wasn’t Cassel close to that kind of backup quarterback stepping in for New England quarterback Tom Brady following that ugly knee injury to kick off the 2008 regular season? As I recall, New England won 11 games that season while just missing the playoffs.

Yes, Cassel is a better option than for the Cowboys than Weeden, but unless he’s willing to stretch the field in man coverage to allow, at the very least, some jump balls to pass-catchers like Terrance Williams, Devin Street or Gavin Escobar, I see nothing that opens up both passing and running lanes for this Dallas offense. Each of those targets are 6’3” and taller, which should create a big play here and there that at least changes field position.

Cassel, along with the other new personnel additions to this struggling offense, could change things enough to win a few games until Romo returns, at which point Bryant might have already played again.

It doesn’t appear right now that this very likely, though. Until the rest of the NFL is served notice that the Cowboys offense can actually hurt an opposing defense in multiple ways again, expect the very same thing that New England brought to town on Week 5.

Next: Cowboys: Running Backs Bigger And Better?

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