Comparing Trent Green and Matt Cassel

November 9th, 2011 by Lee Eldridge

Kansas City Quarterback Matt CasselI was thinking about Trent Green and Matt Cassel the other day. Green is one of my all-time favorite Chiefs. He was the best quarterback we’d seen in a Chiefs’ uniform since Lenny Dawson. (My opinion is that while Joe Montana still had a little slice of magic in him, he was a shell of his former self those two years in KC.) Head coach Dick Vermeil brought Green to Kansas City with him in 2001. That year Green struggled mightily and was nicknamed Tr-INT by Jason Whitlock from the Star. Fans and members of the media were critical of the Chiefs’ decision to trade for Green. But that all changed. Trent went on to have a very impressive run from 2002-05. (See his stats on NFL.com here.) I remember thinking during that ’03 playoff loss to the Colts that Green was the second best quarterback in the league behind Peyton Manning. His career derailed with a concussion early in 2006 and he was never quite the same after that.

Matt Cassel, on the other hand, has not been embraced by local fans. He too struggled his first year as a Chief — though I would make the case that most quarterbacks struggle in their first season with a new team. Cassel had a very productive season for the Chiefs last year leading them to an AFC West title. But after two crushing defeats to open the season this year, many in Kansas City were ready to run him out of town. One local radio host started the Kansas City “Suck for Luck” campaign, embracing the idea that the Chiefs should crash so hard that they end up with the first pick in the draft allowing them to pick Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Both Green and Cassel are high-character guys. They’re tough. They’re leaders. Neither are the most gifted of athletes, but athletic enough to move around in the pocket or run for a first down. Neither has an incredibly strong arm. Personally, I see many more similarities between the two than differences. But you want to know the biggest difference? Their supporting cast. Let’s take a look. We’ll compare Green’s cast in his third season (2003) with Cassel’s cast this year, his third season as a  Chief.

Running Backs
2003: Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, Tony Richardson, Derrick Blaylock
2011: Jackie Battle, Thomas Jones, Le’Ron McClain, Dexter McCluster

This comparison would be much more interesting if Jamaal Charles was healthy. I would have a difficult time choosing between Charles’ big play ability and Holmes’ nose for the endzone. But without Charles as a consideration, I would take every running back from that ’03 team over their counterpart on the current team, and that includes Blaylock over McCluster.

2003: +4

Wide Receivers
2003: Eddie Kennison, Johnnie Morton, Dante Hall, Marc Boerigter
2011: Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin, Keary Colbert

This is the one grouping that really shines today. I think we’ve got the best group of wide receivers I’ve ever watched play in Kansas City. Do you remember who caught the most balls for KC in 2003? Priest Holmes. Who was our second leading receiver? Tony Gonzalez. Only Eddie Kennison was a legitimate threat and could have hung with our current group of receivers. Kennison was roughly the equivalent of Breaston today.

2011: +3

Tight Ends
2003: Tony Gonzalez, Jason Dunn
2011: Leonard Pope, Jake O’Connell

A healthy Tony Moeaki wouldn’t alter this discussion. Gonzalez is the best tight end to ever play the game. And he was at the top of his game during these years in Kansas City. Dunn was a dominating blocker.

2003: +2

Offensive Line
2003: Willie Roaf, Brian Waters, Casey Wiegmann, Will Shields, John Tait
2011: Branden Albert, Ryan Lilja, Casey Wiegmann, Jon Asamoah, Barry Richardson

That offensive line in 2003 was possibly one of the most dominating offensive lines in NFL history. Roaf and Shields are likely Hall of Fame linemen. Waters was in his prime and received multiple trips to the Pro Bowl. Tait had been an effective left tackle, and was a very good right tackle. And Wiegmann was eight years younger and in his prime. Nobody on the current offensive line would be considered a Pro Bowl caliber lineman, let alone Hall of Famer. I would take every lineman from that ’03 line over the current roster. It’s not even close.

2003: +5

I think it’s fair to say that Green had a MUCH stronger offensive cast around him. A dominating offensive line. Holmes was one of the best backs in the game. Gonzalez was the best tight end in the game. Even Richardson was widely considered the best blocking fullback in the game. (Read stats from the 2003 Chiefs here.)

So where does that leave Matt Cassel? Drawing the ire of Kansas City fans and many in the local sports media. Cassel will never be Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. But under the right circumstance he could be every bit as good as a Trent Green. What has most impressed me with Cassel this year is that I think he’s throwing the ball down field with much more accuracy than I’ve seen him in the past. He’s hitting receivers in stride on crossing routes 20+ yards down the field. When given time in the pocket, and an effective running game, he’s been very good. When he’s running for his life and our ground game is anemic, he doesn’t stand much of a chance. But that’s pretty much true for every quarterback in the league.

So here’s the most important question. Can Matt Cassel lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl? Not without a better supporting cast. The Chiefs must improve both their offensive and defensive lines considerably to become a contender. I don’t view Cassel as part of the problem. I do see him as part of the solution. I do believe that Cassel can play well enough on the right team to lead them to the Super Bowl.

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