Matt Cassel vs. Brandon Weeden: The differences are minimal
Nothing in American sports fascinates fans as much as a quarterback controversy. Even if the controversy surrounds two backups trying to extend their dwindling careers by catching magic in a jar for four weeks.
The Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback change from Brandon Weeden to Matt Cassel isn’t technically a controversy because no one in Dallas (or anywhere else outside of Weeden’s parents’ living room) believes that Weeden can win in the NFL. But is there any tangible difference between Cassel and Weeden?
"“I think you want to have substance to change, that’s with scheme, that’s with personnel, that’s at all positions,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told ESPN.com on Monday. “You want to make changes that make sense….If you just start changing things for the hell of it, everybody starts looking around like, ‘What are these guys doing?’ We have core beliefs. We have convictions about how we want to do things, what we want to accomplish in all three phases of our football team, why we want to play guys, why we want to do certain things. If we make any changes to those things, there has to be a valid reason for it.”"
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Everyone knows that the only valid reason for benching Weeden for Cassel is because the team has lost three consecutive games and is desperate to save what began as a season with championship dreams. But the reality facing the Cowboys is that this move likely won’t make any difference.
First, consider the career passing stats of the two men. In 32 games (24 starts) Weeden has completed 57.7% of his passes while in 91 games (72 starts) Cassel’s completion percentage is only slightly better at 59%.
When it comes to protecting the ball, Weeden has thrown 30 interceptions (to 28 touchdowns) while Cassel has thrown 70 interceptions (while throwing 96 touchdowns).
However, the touchdown to interception ratio for Cassel is quite misleading. Take away two years of his career, 2008 when he started 15 games in place of Tom Brady for the New England Patriots and 2010 when he started 15 games for the Kansas City Chiefs, Cassel’s 52 interceptions to 48 touchdown passes almost mirror Weeden’s numbers.
Another statistic of importance to Cowboys fans has to be each player’s yards per attempt. Since taking over for the injured Cowboys’ starter Tony Romo, Weeden has shown an extreme reluctance to push the ball to receivers down field causing him to receive harsh criticism from the football public.
Throughout his career, Weeden’s yards per attempt (passing yards divided by passing attempts) is 6.7. Though Cassel has had at least two quality years in the NFL (two more than Weeden by the way) his yards per attempt is slightly less at 6.6.
So don’t expect Cassel to be a gunslinger throwing bombs down field any more than Weeden was (unless he does so simply to differentiate himself from his predecessor), especially without Dez Bryant.
In fact, in virtually every statistical category there is little difference between the 32-year-old Weeden and the 33-year-old Cassel. So why should the Dallas Cowboys expect any significant improvement at the quarterback position?
According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, “I watched [Cassel] practice [earlier this year] and walked away wondering if he was even healthy…His legs don’t seem as strong…His arm doesn’t seem as live. He isn’t that starting quality guy anymore.”
The Cowboy fans hoping to see Matt Cassel to ride into MetLife Stadium on a white horse in two weeks and pull the team’s season off of the railroad tracks before the freight train of reality hits are likely to be sadly mistaken.
The hope should lie in the fact that the Cowboys’ next two games are against two teams they have already beaten once and neither of which are great (though both have played better of late). Dallas can beat the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles but not if they expect Cassel to lead the charge.
If the return of Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain can bolster Rod Marinelli’s defense, Dallas can come out of these two games 4-0 in the division. But the defense will have to be the catalyst by causing turnovers to give the crippled offense extra possessions and a short field now and then.
So far, Dallas has forced only 5 turnovers this year (good for 29th in the league).
Would it also be too much to ask for the team to make a play on special teams? Through 5 games, the Cowboys’ longest kickoff return has been 32 yards and its longest punt return has been only 12 yards.
Against New England, Dallas started every possession inside its own 30-yard-line. That is asking too much of Weeden or Cassel.
But likely, so is winning more than one of the next four games.