by Ned Macey
This week's AGS focuses primarily on the Miami offense against the New England defense. Ronnie Brown was the star of Miami's 38-13 win, the most shocking event of this weekend. However, few noticed the enormous elephant in the room that is Matt Cassel's horrendous performance. Of course, two solid games and one abysmal game hardly is enough evidence to anoint him either game-manager extraordinaire or season-ruining incompetent.
The key for Cassel, and the Patriots offense, is to develop some sort of downfield threat. Last season, Brady averaged 6.4 deep passes (more than 15 yards in the air) per game. His average pass traveled 8.6 yards. To date, Cassel is averaging 2.3 deep passes per game, and his passes are averaging 5.8 yards. The inability to threaten opposing defenses deep can completely undermine the offensive system and require perfect precision from a quarterback who is not yet ready to play at that level.
Last year, opponents dedicated two players to stopping Randy Moss deep. As a result, Wes Welker caught 112 passes, and the Patriots were the best rushing offense in football on a per-play basis. Without the deep threat, everything is packed in closer to the line of scrimmage. The underneath routes are no longer available, and teams can bring a safety into the box to slow the run.
So far, Moss has been a non-factor. Welker is averaging one fewer catch per game and one fewer yard per catch. The three tailbacks are averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. The point where this went from problematic to absurd was the Patriots' first drive of the second quarter. From first-and-10 on the Dolphins' 25-yard line, Cassel completed three straight passes, two to wide receivers, and gained a total of eight yards. All told, 16 of his 19 completions netted fewer than 10 yards. Until Cassel proves he can stretch the field vertically, he will find it almost impossible to succeed by stretching it horizontally.