The Pressure Is On For Cassel

Ian Logue
September 24, 2008 at 09:40pm ET

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Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is off to a rough start through his first three NFL games.
In his two starts for New England it appears the coaching staff has had him on somewhat of a leash, but so far when he's needed to make a big play, it hasn't happened.  The worst part of the problem seems to be inside the 20's, where New England has only scored four times in eleven trips.   So far Cassel has thrown just two touchdown passes and has been eratic, and has had his share of close calls.  The question is, is he having difficulty making his reads?  He's certainly seen a fair amount of pressure (he's been sacked nine times) so that may obviously be part of it.  But something is obviously wrong, and during his press conference on Wednesday head coach Bill Belichick talked a little about the position.
"When a quarterback goes back to throw he has a primary read on the pattern," explained Belichick.  "If a quarterback doesn’t see that properly than you probably don’t have a very good chance on the play.
"Once that’s identified, then you go to a location where you are working with two or three receivers on the play and that’s where the decision making comes in, which guy to throw it to and how to make that throw."
"Decision-making is decision making, whether it’s Brett Favre, Matt Cassel or [Joe] Flacco. When you go back to throw you have the ball in your hands and you have certain things that you’re looking at. You have to decide what is the best thing to do."
So far Cassel, for the most part, has at least kept the ball out of the opponents hands.  He's only thrown one interception and the offense really hasn't turned the football over.  But it just seems that it's taking time for him to develop chemistry with the receivers and really get a bead on where they're going to be.  One thing that was concerning during the loss against Miami was that you could clearly view Wes Welker jawing at him after Cassel hit Welker on a quick throw at the line early in the game.  He was hit almost immediately after it was clear that the defense had read the play, which seemed to really fire up Welker and he had some choice words heading back into the huddle.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe suggested in his mailbag that it may be only a matter of time before the team makes a quarterback change and gives Kevin O'Connell a chance to play.  The team's next game against the San Francisco 49ers may be a "make or break" one for Cassel, and one thing he's going to have to start doing is getting his team into the endzone instead of kicking field goals.  The next few opponents aren't exactly going to be easy.  After San Francisco the Patriots take on both San Diego and the Denver Broncos, with the Broncos setting the conference on fire and averaging 432 yards-per-game.  Let's face it, if the Patriots can't score touchdowns against either of those teams, it's going to be a tough stretch.  It's bad enough they're 24th in the league in total offense with 814 yards total (Dallas leads with 1320yds) and 25th in scoring with 49 points (Denver has scored 114, San Diego has scored 110).  So something has to obviously change.  Whether or not that means making a change at the quarterback position remains to be seen.
Cassel has three games and two starts under his belt and has had some playing experience.  But it's time to take it to the next level, which is what all of us here in New England are hoping for.  For now it sounds like Belichick is ready to stay with him, but obviously Cassel's play will be the defining factor.  The Patriots are currently tied for third in the NFL for field goals with 7, which is a category they'd probably prefer to be touchdowns.  That's something that Cassel and the offense will likely spend time improving on over the break.

"Experience is experience," said Belichick on the quarterback position.  "But like everything we do, we all still have to make decisions based on what the information is at hand and what presents itself at that particular point in time - you do it on what you think is the best thing."
Hopefully for Cassel's sake it won't mean eventually losing his job.