Ryan Lilja is not a wide receiver.
This news probably does not shock you. Ryan has been a lineman dating all the way back to his high school days at Shawnee Mission Northwest. If you’ve ever seen Ryan shirtless, you know he can’t even be mistaken for an oversize blocking tight end. I know it. You know it. Ryan knows it. 51 of his teammates know it.
Unfortunately, teammate #52 is quarterback Matt Cassel. I’m sure it was an honest mistake. No quarterback worth his salt would aim a pass at an ineligible man with 1:26 left on the clock and the season’s first win in sight. The official NFL gamebook states that his target was running back Dexter McCluster, but Dexter was five yards away. There were two players and two only that were in the vicinity of that pass: Ryan Lilja, and, of course, Eric Weddle, who wears the wrong colors, so Cassel surely wasn’t aiming at him; ergo, he attempted a pass to his left guard.
Of course, Matt Cassel isn’t worth his salt, so maybe the normal rules don’t apply.
I question whether or not Cassel is even trying to play quarterback at this point. I’m not really sure how to describe what he does. Statistically, the quarterback closest to Cassel this season is Kerry Collins. Each has nailed down a passer rating in the mid 60s, and neither has a 200 yard game. Collins has more attempts than Cassel, but fewer completions. Cassel has more picks, but Collins has more fumbles and has taken more sacks. Now that Luke McCown is riding pine in Jacksonville, it’s fair to say that one of these two should be crowned worst quarterback in the NFL.
Ladies and gentlemen, your winner is Matt Cassel. Kerry Collins is miles above him.
I say that not because I think Collins is an exceptional talent experiencing a rough patch, struggling to adjust to a new system he was thrown into with little to no preparation. I say it simply on the grounds that Collins is doing exactly what Cassel is not: making his reads and targeting his receivers. In three games, Collins took aim at his top three wideouts 65 times, his starting tight end 18 times, his tailbacks and fullbacks 10 times, and a reserve tight end once. Over the same stretch, Cassel went for his top three wideouts 36 times, his starting tight end 12, reserve receivers 5, a reserve tight end once, his tailbacks and fullbacks 27 (since the pass to Lilja was officially credited to McCluster, it’s included here), and himself once.
Quarterbacks who dump off a third of their passes to running backs usually do so because they’re under pressure. In Cassel’s case, that’s not so. In 88 dropbacks, he’s been pressured 17 times. That makes him the second least pressured QB in the league, behind only Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Unsurprisingly, on deep pass attempts (20 yards or more), he’s among the league’s least accurate: 4 for 13, or 30.8%. Sadly, that’s actually an improvement from last year, when he went 14 for 57 (24.6%), ahead of only Chad Henne and Alex Smith. Don’t think of blaming it on Bowe or Breaston either. None of his deep passes have been dropped. Matt’s just missing his mark.
Lost in the noise is that the Kansas City defense, sans its best player and stranded on the field for nearly 35 minutes, played really well. Derrick Johnson established himself as an upper echelon inside linebacker last year. Anybody who feared he did so for the sake of ensuring a lucrative second contract can rest assured he did not. Tamba Hali, Wallace Gilberry, Glenn Dorsey, and Allen Bailey all made plays in the backfield. Six different Chiefs defensed a pass, and Gilberry and Donald Washington both forced fumbles. Javier Arenas’s expanding prowess as a punt returner is noteworthy too. His 37 yard return was the longest of the week and tenth longest of the season.
None of which matters if you don’t have a quarterback. The Chiefs definitely don’t have a quarterback. Stanford signal caller Andrew Luck looks like he’s gonna be a pretty good one–so good, in fact, that small (but growing) sects of fans for a handful of teams are embracing the concept of tanking the season to get him. In September. Before it’s even mathematically possible to be halfway to a losing record.
This is a thing of shame.
I’d like for the Chiefs to draft and develop a quarterback that could affect change on this team for a decade or longer. It’s something the franchise has never really fully committed to, and it’s cost them the opportunity to visit the big game on a more regular basis. Intentionally losing, despite being incredibly difficult without taking extreme measures (like starting Tyler Palko, and even that’s not a lock), will absolutely demoralize the team. Even the thickest skull on the team knows that at 0-3, the season is far from lost. Demoralize that player this year, then ask him to put his body at risk for you again next year, and see how well he responds.
This begs the question: is there ever a circumstance where it’s okay to tank a game to move up in the draft? The answer is yes, but only other following circumstances:
It’s week 17. You’re in contention for last place, but today, your opponent is rolling over. The game is actually close. It’s not against a division foe. Shortly before the two minute warning, if you do not yet have the lead and are not deep in enemy territory, and tanking the game would afford you the chance to pick first, yeah, do it. But make it interesting. Someone on your defensive line needs to throw a pass. Not one of the fast guys though. One of the fat ones. Pull a Lane Kiffin. Attempt a fieldgoal on the wrong side of the midfield logo.
Really though, there are a few things that fans just shouldn’t do in sports. Cheering for injuries is one. Cheering against your own team (booing doesn’t count) is another. If your team opens 0-3, you should be hoping for 13-3. If they start 0-13, you should be hoping for 3-13. Besides, tanking for a guy touted as the next John Elway overlooks the fact that three of Elway’s 1983 1st round classmates led their teams to the Super Bowl as well, and two of them are with Elway in the Hall Of Fame. One of them was taken with the 27th overall pick–second to last in the first round.
So if you’re already on the Suck For Luck bandwagon or you’re thinking about climbing on, ask yourself this: is it worth three months of essentially watching your team cheat to lose just to get the next Elway, when behind that Elway there may very well be another Dan Marino?
To me it’s not. It’s not even close.