Sunday’s matchup with the San Francisco 49ers is important for the Kansas City Chiefs, and particularly for Matt Cassel. The Chiefs are 2-0 for the first time since 2005, when they went on to be 10-6 on the season. However, the Chiefs are relying on a much less dependable quarterback in 2010 than the one playing in 2005. Through the first two weeks, Cassel has just 244 passing yards. Trent Green had significantly more than that in 2005, racking up 420 yards in his first two games. If the Chiefs want to stay above .500, Cassel will have to learn how to throw like an NFL quarterback.
Cassel currently has an abysmal 55.8 quarterback rating. Let’s just say that if he finishes the year with statistics that are this bad, I see little chance he plays quarterback for the Chiefs in 2011.
Yet, the Chiefs are in first place of the AFC West at 2-0, and with 2-0 comes an opportunity to be 3-0 heading into the bye week.
Enter the 49ers, who are much better than their 0-2 record might indicate. San Francisco provides an awfully tough matchup for the Chiefs; their run defense is phenomenal, they have one of the best running backs around in Frank Gore, an elite tight end in Vernon Davis, and a passing attack that has been much more effective than anticipated that is led by quarterback Alex Smith. This is a 49ers team that, on paper, is much more talented from top to bottom than the Chiefs. But so were the San Diego Chargers.
With a win on Sunday, Kansas City can turn talk of a surprising 2010 start to legitimate discussion of a playoff race. Undoubtedly, the fans at Arrowhead Stadium will give the Chiefs a better chance to win this game… but they won’t win this game. Not unless Matt Cassel steps his game up in a big way.
The Chiefs won’t get much going on the ground with Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles against Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis and the rest of the 49ers defense. No one does. Thus, the big plays will likely have to come from the passing game, which so far has been pretty much worthless.
The Chiefs coaching staff have babied Cassel this year. While other players clearly have been criticized by the coaching staff (including Chris Chambers, who took the blame for an interception that was badly underthrown by Cassel), when asked about Cassel’s struggles, we get the response that the passing game is “an eleven-man operation.” After the Browns game, when asked about Cassel’s performance, Todd Haley thought it’d be unfair to criticize Cassel when he hadn’t watched the tape yet. This is a complete joke. Haley is a smart guy, and in my opinion a good football coach. He knows that his quarterback sucks, he can tell when his players are playing well or not playing well without watching the tape; he just doesn’t want to talk about it or admit that his boss, Scott Pioli, made a huge mistake in giving a career backup such a large contract. When the Chiefs won against the Chargers, but Cassel sucked, the coaches said that he took care of the ball. Which is true. Hooray for not throwing interceptions. When the Chiefs won against the Cleveland Browns, but Cassel sucked AND turned the ball over, the coaching staff points out that winning is winning. I like Todd Haley and the rest of the Chiefs coaching staff, but they should stop making excuses for Cassel. If the Chiefs lost, but Cassel threw for 300 yards, I seriously doubt they’d be criticizing his performance. But as much as the coaches have babied him, number 7 will have to man up on Sunday because his team will need him to perform well.
This is not a must win for the Chiefs, but it would be huge if they pull it off. Don’t expect the Chiefs to do much against the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, but if they can get out of that stretch 3-2, they will be in a phenomenal position to win the division, given their very easy schedule.
I don’t think the Chiefs win this one because I don’t have any confidence in Cassel. I predict the 49ers beat Kansas City 17-14, and I hope Matty C steps up and proves me wrong.
Oh, and free Jamaal Charles.