The Struggle To Protect The Passer … Cup O’Chiefs

Somewhere in the Kansas City area on Wednesday Matt Cassel tried to go on with the tasks of everyday life with his right hand heavily wrapped in a bandage.

At the Chiefs facility, Tyler Palko got his first practice as the team’s starting quarterback. It was a walkthrough session and since he was wearing the yellow jersey that goes to all quarterbacks, he was off-limits as far as defensive players were concerned.

Players get hurt in the NFL, sometimes even in practice. It’s not a contact sport; it’s a collision sport. Part of the fabric of the game is that sometimes when bodies collide, bones go snap, crackle and pop. It can happen at any time, any place and seldom needs the help of others.

Surgery on Cassel’s right hand and the bandage he wears and now protects it did not just happen by chance. In the last two games, the Chiefs quarterback was battered about by the pass rush of the Dolphins and Broncos. Finally, Cassel’s body went snap, crackle, pop. It could have been a leg, an arm, a shoulder, but in this case it was his right hand and fingers.

His body had enough and it’s easy to see why given the pass protection numbers are ugly for those last two games:

  • 87 pass plays called.
  • 11 runs on scrambles by Cassel.
  • 67 passes attempted by Cassel.
  • 9 times Cassel was sacked.
  • 21 hits on Cassel as he threw the ball or just after release.

That means on 41 (runs, sacks, hits) of those 87 pass plays, Cassel ended up getting hit or tackled. That’s 47 percent of the pass plays called. That is a recipe for offensive disaster.

“It involves all components of the offense,” head coach Todd Haley said of the pass protection. “It’s not just the offensive line. If receivers aren’t doing things the way they are supposed to do it and it creates a spacing issue that’s a problem. If the additional protectors aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing, or blocking their assigned protection, that’s an issue.

“That makes for a very complicated situation that everybody has to deal with. It ultimately comes down to executing in all areas and positions. They all have to be executing efficiently to have plays go the way they need to go.”

There is a cause and effect with poor pass protection – the more sacks allowed, offensive production decreases. It’s elementary football and it’s obvious in the play and production of the Chiefs offense the past two weeks. They scored just one touchdown and 13 total points in those two games.

Let’s take a look at all the starting quarterbacks from last week’s 16-game NFL schedule. They are listed in alphabetical order, with Cassel on top and the numbers for each quarterback are attempted passes, sacks, running plays (not including knee downs), hits taken by the quarterback and whether his team won or lost. Check them out:

Quarterback

Team

Att

Sks

Runs

QH

W/L

M. Cassel

KC

28

4

2

12

L

S. Bradford

STL

25

1

1

3

W

T. Brady

NE

39

0

2

1

W

D. Brees

NO

43

0

0

2

W

J. Cutler

CHI

19

2

4

3

W

A. Dalton

CIN

30

0

0

2

L

R. Fitzpatrick

BUF

31

1

3

4

L

J. Flacco

BAL

52

1

2

4

L

J. Freeman

TB

33

4

3

5

L

B. Gabbert

JAX

21

2

3

4

W

R. Grossman

WAS

32

3

0

6

L

M. Hasselbeck

TEN

27

1

1

3

W

T. Jackson

SEA

27

1

2

6

W

E. Manning

NYG

40

1

2

3

L

C. McCoy

CLV

27

2

4

3

L

M. Moore

MIA

29

2

2

3

W

C. Newton

CAR

40

5

7

8

L

C. Painter

IND

19

3

1

8

L

C. Palmer

OAK

20

1

1

2

W

C. Ponder

MIN

34

3

2

6

L

P. Rivers

SD

47

6

1

6

L

A. Rodgers

GB

30

3

6

3

W

B. Roethlisberger

PIT

33

5

3

13

W

T. Romo

DAL

26

0

1

1

W

M. Ryan

ATL

52

1

1

2

L

M. Sanchez

NYJ

39

5

4

8

L

M. Schaub

HOU

15

1

1

2

W

J. Skelton

ARZ

40

4

2

5

W

A. Smith

SF

30

2

6

4

W

M. Stafford

DET

63

2

2

4

L

T. Tebow

DEN

8

0

8

0

W

M. Vick

PHL

34

2

8

2

L

The 31 other quarterbacks on average last Sunday were sacked twice and hit four other times. That’s six hits on the passer. The QBs of winning teams averaged 4.9 sacks and hits in their games. The QBs on the losing teams averaged 7.9 sacks and hits.

Only Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger was battered more than Cassel, as he was hit 18 times and picked up a broken thumb in the process. Cassel was hit 16 times and suffered a right-hand injury. Cam Newton and Matt Sanchez were both hit 13 times. Roethlisberger was the only one of those QBs whose team won its game.

On the other side of the equation Tony Romo of Dallas and Tom Brady of New England both were touched just once. New Orleans QB Drew Brees was hit twice. All three won their games.

If Palko is going to have any chance to win his first start in the NFL, he must have pass protection that far exceeds what Cassel saw against the Dolphins and Broncos. The Chiefs made adjustments in both of those games to provide more bodies to block, but even that extra protection did not always work.

“There are different ways to help protect,” Haley said. “Some of those are movement, moving pockets, nakeds, bootlegs; there are multiple ways to do it. We generally try to play to the strength of our players and the quarterback is part of that. The line, receivers, everybody, it makes for a challenge this week, especially when you see some of the rushers that we see on a weekly basis.”

This week it’s Patriots veteran DE Andre Carter, who in nine games owns nine sacks, or as many as the entire Chiefs team.

“We’ve had to game plan for him a bunch through the years in the different places that I’ve been,” Haley said. “He’s a long, lean and looks like a pass rusher. Like a bunch of players that have gone to New England over the years, he’s playing at a high level, one of their premiere pass rushers. They did a really good job of creating pressure last week (against the Jets when Carter had 4.5 sacks.)”

If the Chiefs don’t find a way to block Carter and the rest of the Patriots pass rush, then it won’t matter who is dropping back to pass – Cassel, Palko, Ricky Stanzi or Len Dawson out of the radio booth – they will not survive and they will wear bandages a lot like Cassel.


13 Responses to “The Struggle To Protect The Passer … Cup O’Chiefs”

  • November 17, 2011  - Chuck says:

    Well Iam glad that the problem has been “identified”. Now what are the Chiefs and management in particular going to do to SOLVE THE PROBLEM?????


  • November 17, 2011  - Tim says:

    Nice article, Bob. As much as I believe Haley is a pretty good coach, HE’s still a work in progress. Of course he’s right to cite all of the technical nuances of things that affect protection, but really its just masking what we all see with our eyes: that we still have issues up front. I believe much of this is due to Muir being OC & not just O-line. He may have all the experience in the world, etc., but that doesn’t make a good OC necessarily. His expertise is what it is & that’s where he should stay. Haley keeps tinkering with the coaching composition & its hurting the team. He’s the offensive mind & was given his opportunity because of that in no small part. He needs to “grow” & realize that while it may not be the ideal thing (in his own mind) for him to be the OC too, it will be the most productive & stable. Look at Sean Payton & Mike McCarthy & others that perform the dual role. They seem to be quite successful. Does it really matter if its not his “ideal” set-up if it works? This is what he must learn & accept because he’ll always be tinkering…


  • November 17, 2011  - ED J says:

    Agreed Bob. Haley doing coach speak. I’ve watched the game twice. o-line having problems due to poor blocking by Pope, Richardson, and Wiegman. I mean Richardson been getting whipped all yr but last two Sundays take the cake. Wake absoulutely abused him and Lenorard Pope. Then last Sunday they made Von Miller look like second coming of LT. Then in middle of our defense I watched Casey Wiegman just get steamed rolled by Broncos Def tackle. last i checked that kid wasn’t elite and he was abusing wiegman and causing pressure up the middle.Same happen in Dolphins game. Albert also has been inconsistent but not as much as Wiegman and Richardson they’ve been an embarrassment.

    HOw do you fix it this season. Replace Richardson with Gaither. I mean whatever his health status he’s certainly an upgrade over Barry. I mean how long since Pioli/Haley regime we’ve been saying we need right tackle. Then there’s Wiegman we new at some point age would catch him. Its caught him because he’s not even facing elite or good def tackles and he’s getting dominated. Its time to start the Rodney Hudson era. I mean he’s younger and its time to let kid lead this oline.

    Lets spin if foward how do we fix o-line time to draft elite left tackle. Albert needs to move to right. I mean we’ve been asking the question last 3yrs and most Chiefs fans have been split but after watching last 3yrs he’s just not developing into a bookend left tackle. I watched Albert last week getting holding penalty that erased 30yard gain by Bowe. And he got beat quite few times too its just Richardson and Wiegman stood out even more. Its time either via draft or spending huge money in free agency to get young bookend left tackle. No question if an elite to good Qb doesn’t fall to us in 1st rd we need to draft left tackle in 1st round or 2nd.


  • November 17, 2011  - ED J says:

    Tim i disagree do I think o-line problems more to do with peronsel than play calling. i mean its been so bad I haven’t even had time to see what play is or was. I mean that was helluva play call on that touchdown. I think people bass Muir because he’s old and just easy target truth be told he’s dialed up some good plays all yr its certainly better than Solari 3runs then punt.


  • November 17, 2011  - aPauled says:

    So, we have Muir in the box drawing plays from a hat while His OL isn’t performing. What are the chances of getting Muir back on the sideline where he excels and where he can work with the OL?


  • November 17, 2011  - Rick says:

    The o-line, is a weakness. Cassel’s lack of decisiveness, is a weakness. The play calling, is a weakness.

    Add all this up and you have an ineffective offense.


  • November 17, 2011  - Justin says:

    Well, I guess I have been really reluctant to give voice to my thoughts on this matter but in the words of Carlos Zambrano: “We Stinks!”

    Our D line is porous, our O line is porous, our depth and any position of skill outside of WR is nil, we have arguably the majority of our best players out for the season and our play calling is shaky at best and suspect most of the time.

    Dang, the truth hurts but it is certainly cathartic to get out.

    Lets hope we can get some good players in the draft and free agency next year. Wow, I feel like a Cubs fan “wait ’til next year!” – oh wait, I am. Bummer.


  • November 17, 2011  - David says:

    Thanks, Bob, for charting out the simple math. Football is indeed a collision sport, and if a QB gets hit 12 times a game there is 4X the chance of injury than if he’s only getting hit 3 times a game. Cassel has been a sitting duck for D-linemen the last couple of games and sadly, there was almost an inevitability to his taking a hit that would put him on the sideline. If O-line play doesn’t improve, Palko will similarly be at risk.


  • November 17, 2011  - Johnfromwichita says:

    I am having a really hard time not thinking that shooing away Brian Waters was the dominoe that tipped everything over. Like I’ve said: we need to go get more quarterbacks. I doubt if he would sat it out loud, but I bet Mr. Waters is dying for Monday night to get here. God help Tyler because his line probaly won’t.


  • November 17, 2011  - ED J says:

    B waters not going help Richardson block better nor will he help Wiegman im tired of Chiefs fans even bringing it up. He playimg well now with Pats but he is one man he not going help those other guys block better. It didnt help having him against Ravens or Raiders last yr. Bottom line both guys need to be replaced.


  • November 17, 2011  - Tim says:

    ED J – I didn’t say one was more responsible than the other. I was talking about two different areas: O-line & the offense as a whole. I agree MOST of the O-line problems are due to personnel shortcomings, but not all of it. I don’t believe they’re being coached as well as last season because of the changes in coaching duties, etc. When 3 of 5 need to be replaced on the line, you’re going to have problems. Casey W. has done ok, but just not going to be as consistent…same w/ Lilja. Barry R. just isn’t starting caliber against these bigger, better teams and that is what we’re playing this year. We need to draft a high quality RT. If we did that, and Gaither were healthy, Gaither could take over LT & Albert could kick inside to his natural LG spot (where he was in college). This would make us bigger, stronger & younger. Keep Barry R. as a swing OT, maybe. Hudson will take over for Casey.


  • November 17, 2011  - ED J says:

    I disagree with resigning Barry his performance doesn’t deserve a backup role. Lija, Albert and Asomaoah for most part been the most consistent. Albert needs to move to right tackle. He has athleticism to play left but just not consistent enough to play left tackle. Team is going to have big decisions to make in the draft either they’re going have to take QB or left tackle. I guess it will depend on the value of which position is better prospect based on who’s avaiable when we pick.


  • November 17, 2011  - ED J says:

    Lastly Wiegman is playing worst due to age we knew father time would catch him at some point. Also Richardson just embarrasment I don’t think having Muir on sideline is going to help that or neither if Waters was still around. Like I said before how much difference did it make last yr against Raiders and Ravens at the end of the season.




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