Once again I’m opening a game review with proverbial egg on my face. Over the past week, a reader brought to light a statistical inaccuracy in my analysis of Matt Cassel from the Colts game. In the article, I offered a very damning figure demonstrating Cassel’s lack of poise under pressure: a completion percentage of just 28.1% (104/370). Using the same source, the reader pulled a very different number: 41.0% (158/385). I double checked said source and pulled a third number: 41.6% (154/370). That leads me to one of two possible conclusions. Option 1 is that the source’s database is inconsistent. I’m a fan of this option. It’s less damaging to my own credibility.
I reconfirmed the comparison data for Flacco, Manning, Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger, and Brees, however, and there were no changes. I’ve rechecked them multiple times in the interim. Again, no changes. That leads me to option 2, which is that both the reader and myself did some bad math. I’m not a fan of this option, but it’s the most plausible. As I stated in the prior review, I’m not interested in slandering the guy. Thus, let the record be stated that Cassel’s completion percentage under pressure is 41.6%.
Which is still considerably lower than the other six QBs mentioned, along with David Garrard (49.0%), Jason Campbell (48.5%), Kyle Orton (45.7%), and Alex Smith (45.0%). But hey, he is slightly ahead of Derek Anderson (40.1%) and Mark Sanchez (38.6%).
Once again, this begs the question: is the jackhole gonna pile on Cassel after a win yet again? On a day where he logged a 38.3 passer rating, it’d be both justified and simple, but the answer is no. I’m nowhere close to finished with my criticism of him, but I’m taking a few paragraphs off to focus on another position: defensive back.
I’ll openly admit it. Throughout September, I looked at this unit and saw little to no hope. Eric Berry was out, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr were having frustratingly slow starts, Kendrick Lewis was dinged up, Jon McGraw appeared well past his expiration date, and Sabby Piscitelli was contending for the coveted Wade Smith Award, given to the worst player in the league to receive significant playing time.
Two of those things still hold true: Berry is still gone and Piscitelli is still awful. By week four, however, Flowers and Carr started to turn the corner, and in week five McGraw played one of his finer games in a few years. What the unit had failed to do prior to Sunday, however, was force a lot of interceptions. In reality, they haven’t done that for years. Under Todd Haley, the most the team compiled in a single game was at Denver in the final week of the 2009 season, when Flowers picked one and Derrick Johnson picked two (one for a score). They last exceeded three against Brady’s Patriots in November of 2005 (three for Greg Wesley, one for Sammy Knight).
Six is an aberration, of course, regardless of the circumstances. The Chiefs have done it before a few times, but not since 1970. What’s important, however, is that the Chiefs identified an obvious potential for weakness (either an underprepared Carson Palmer or the perennially inept Kyle Boller, or both), structured a gameplan around it, and capitalized. I was pleasantly surprised with the six picks, but I honestly might have felt a little let down had there been fewer than three. The expectation coming into this season was that Flowers, Carr, Berry, and Lewis had the potential to be the team’s best backfield foursome post-Schottenheimer. The loss of Berry, devastating as it may have been, should not have triggered such a dramatic downturn. They needed a breakout game to assert that they were viable even in the absence of their strongest link. Opportunity abounded on Sunday, and opportunistic they were.
It started with Lewis, who set the tone for the day. Kansas City took the ball first. After a messy, penalty-laden drive that took fewer than 30 seconds off the clock and ended all too familiarly with a Dustin Colquitt punt, it would have been easy for Oakland to swing the momentum their way. Instead, thanks to a penalty on 3rd and 1 courtesy of Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders found themselves beholden to Boller’s less than golden arm early. Boller proceeded to do what Boller does best–make bad decisions. Lewis made him pay, returning the errant throw for an early touchdown.
The subsequent Oakland drive ended with a key 3rd down tackle by Jon McGraw on a Boller scramble, forcing a punt. Kansas City moved the chains close to midfield, then punted again themselves. Credit what happened next to another Kansas City reserve defensive back–struggling rookie corner Jalil Brown downed the punt at Oakland’s 2-yard line, essentially forcing the Raiders to again place their trust in the arm of Kyle Boller. Boller responded with a textbook completion to Brandon Flowers.
Okay, technically it’s not a completion, since they’re on different teams, but Boller struggles to get his passes into anybody’s hands, so cut the guy a little slack.
Following the turnover, Kansas City pushed from midfield to the Oakland 1-yard line, largely on the sure hands and nimble feet of receivers Steve Breaston and Dwayne Bowe. On the ensuing 1st and goal, underutilized fullback Le’Ron McClain was finally given the opportunity to prove his worth as a battering ram. The result: 14-0, Kansas City, with nearly two minutes to play in the first quarter.
What happened next was a display of the Chiefs’ primary source of shame for over a decade: Oakland’s second string running back slashed and gashed his way to the Kansas City 5-yard line. Derrick Johnson, however, engineered a goal line stand, stopping Michael Bush on 1st, 2nd, and 4th downs. No individual defender is credited for the 3rd down stop, but Johnson was there too.
Boller closed the first half by putting the ball into a defender’s hands yet again (Brandon Carr this time). Following halftime, Raiders coach Hue Jackson gave him one final shot at redemption. Boller laid a goose egg, failing to complete three passes, thus necessitating another Shane Lechler punt. Javier Arenas returned the punt 15 yards. Jackie Battle tacked on 17 more on the ground, and Oakland conceded 30 on penalties. What followed was one of the more mystifying offensive formations I’ve seen a Kansas City team take, ranking right up there with the 2008 Mark Bradley touchdown pass to Tyler Thigpen. Arenas, whose ballhandling skills have always been confined to kick and punt returns, lined up behind center in the wildcat, took the snap, and followed a convoy of Ryan Lilja, Le’Ron McClain, and Dwayne Bowe into the endzone.
Chalk the remaining 25 minutes of regulation football to poor coaching by Hue Jackson. Yes, Kyle Boller is pretty bad, but there isn’t much excuse for throwing Carson Palmer to the wolves the way he did. Palmer actually nailed his first pass, an 18-yarder to receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. He didn’t connect on very many more, however, and ultimately went 8 for 21 with picks to Flowers, McGraw, and Travis Daniels (Flowers returned his for Kansas City’s fourth and final score). The transaction to acquire Palmer from the Bengals may pay off for Oakland in the long run, but I can’t find any sound justification for putting in a guy with three days of preparation following ten months of rest. Jackson is lucky Palmer didn’t get hurt.
So there, I did it. 10 consecutive paragraphs with no mention of Matt Cassel. Matt, if you’re reading this, consider this shore leave. If you do well against San Diego next week, I might even extend it. At some point, however, combat will resume, and I promise you it won’t be pretty. Your team just won despite you. Go have a little chat with Boller about that. Sure, you can get filthy rich doing that for a while, but eventually you end up sitting on the bench in Oakland and going home to an insufferable idiot like Carrie Prejean. Good luck with that.