It’s time for the coaching staff to take the leash off of quarterback Matt Cassel.
At 5-3 and coming off of a loss that he did everything in his power to prevent, it’s pretty clear that Cassel isn’t going to make any bad decisions and potentially give the ball up. So it’s time for the coaching staff to start giving him more opportunities to make a play, because I don’t think anyone can feel good about the way they lost last night. Ball control and game management is one thing. But being overconservative with a guy who has shown good accuracy and the ability to pull the ball down instead of trying to force a play that may not be there, is another.
So far this season through eight games Cassel has thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, with several of those picks coming after the ball was taken away from the receiver, it went off their hands, or they just simply fell down (ie: Wes Welker last week). We haven’t seen him force the ball into double coverage, or miss wide open guys. When they have tried to go deep this season we’ve seen Cassel make some good throws, and have also seen Randy Moss not go up for a ball that should have been his and we’ve seen last night’s drop by Jabar Gaffney. Good things have happened when Cassel has seen an opportunity, and now it’s time for the coaching staff to stop being so cautious and give him a chance to make a play.
Last night’s performance should give fans quite a bit of confidence, because quite honestly heading into this game I had my own doubts on whether or not New England would be able to win this game. I was concerned considering Peyton Manning’s history to sustain drives, tire out the defense, and put up points that Cassel wouldn’t be able to win a potential “shootout”. But he matched Manning and the Colts drive-for-drive and kept the defense fresh, putting together four drives in excess of 6-minutes which helped his team dominate in time of possession 34:24 to 25:36.
In the end it was his coach who dropped the ball. Granted Gaffney dropped it first, but despite that the drive still kept going until Belichick negated what appeared to be a 4th down conversion at the Colts 7 with a timeout, and took away a potential scoring opportunity.
For a guy who takes so many chances on 4th down, last night was the first time in a while where it appeared that Belichick over-thought each decision. It’s pretty clear that his disdain for Tony Dungy (which I also share) got the better of him, which was shown when he called a challenge when it appeared the Colts had 12 men on the field after he had the offense go no huddle and get to the line to try and catch them. The challenge cost his team a timeout, and considering the game was in Indianapolis the odds were against him anyway in getting that call overturned. But that 4th down timeout definitely left me scratching my head, especially considering the success they’d had for most of the game in sneaking Cassel behind the center.
Needless to say I think the guy that most of us had vilified after the preseason (myself included) has done enough to show that he’s not going to give away the game, which is one of the main reasons why the Patriots have won five games and almost won number six last night. He may hold on to the ball a bit too long, but at least it’s better than seeing him throw it into coverage and turn it over. He’s been accurate on his deep throws and they have the personnel to throw it to. Not to mention that considering how open the deep middle of the field used to be when Tom Brady was at quarterback with that offense, there is another part of Cassel’s game that they’re going to need to give him the opportunity to find. Let’s face it, they’ll have a tough time beating a championship caliber team if they continue to play “not-to-lose”. Which is something that after last night’s game is just becoming even more difficult pill to swallo after they just let the game get away from them.
All of us doubted Belichick’s decision initially on Cassel’s future after the preseason, but the majority of us have seen enough to feel confident now with him leading the offense. Going forward I think the time has come for them to forget about trying to keep him from losing the game, and instead they should give him some opportunities to win one. Hopefully we get to see that happen next week at home against Buffalo.
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