Jaworski: Cassel showed unbelievable mental toughness
"Every week he seems to do something else that impresses me. What he did in Oakland, just a few days after his father had died, is amazing. I can't imagine doing that, especially playing as well as he did. We have to look at Matt's mental toughness. He's just a tough kid to knock down."
Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski was asked the question that will be asked many, many times this winter and spring.
If you were general manager of an NFL franchise that needed a quarterback, would you offer the New England Patriots a first-round draft pick for Matt Cassel?
"Are you kidding me?" said Jaworski last week from NFL Films headquarters in Mt. Laurel, N.J.
"If I was planning on drafting a quarterback in the first round, absolutely. I would take Matt Cassel instead. Rather than going through the maturation process and bumpy road, I like a sure thing. Matt is a player."
OK, so we aren't alone in our high praise. Cassel, who for some reason has been overlooked for the NFL's "best story" of 2008, is getting his props from one of the most knowledgeable quarterback gurus in the world.
"I don't understand why people aren't talking about him more, but I am," said Jaworski.
He says he has seen virtually every one of Cassel's snaps this season, watching the "coaches film," which shows three views of each play.
"I think the biggest difference now than earlier in the season is that he's not a one-read guy," said Jaworski. "Earlier in the season, he wasn't going through his progressions. But that is understandable."
Like everyone else, Jaworski figured after Tom Brady went down in Game 1, the Patriots would simplify things and run the ball a lot more.
"I was wrong," said Jaworski. "For the most part, they are doing the same things they were doing when Brady was in. They are spreading the field. They are throwing from the shotgun. They are throwing those bubble screens. It's amazing that not a lot has changed in terms of scheming. I never would have predicted this."
Jaworski said he got a new appreciation for Cassel when he met him in person a few days before the Patriots played Denver on Oct. 21.
"I like to see them throw the ball in person. And I really like talking to them at the (TV) meeting," said Jaworski. "He doesn't have a Jay Cutler arm. But his velocity is good. He has a tight spiral, which is important when you play in the northeast and all of that wind.
"I was impressed with him at the individual meetings," said Jaworski. "He's very well-spoken. You can see he is very prepared and very professional. He showed me a lot when we were up there (in Foxboro)."
He has shown Jaworski a lot since that game, which happened to be one of his best (18-for-24, 3 TD passes in the 41-7 win), including traces of one of Brady's best qualities ... anticipation.
"It's an attribute a quarterback must have in this league," said Jaworski. "You can't wait for receivers to get open. I always believe if a receiver sees the ball in a quarterback's hands, it's late."
The other quality that Cassel has developed at a meteoric pace is his decision-making.
"In the early games, when he dropped back, if No. 1 wasn't there, he was tucking ball," said Jaworski. "As the season has worn on, he is looking at option No. 2 and No. 3. He's sliding a little more, buying a little time and taking the running opportunity when it is an option. Matt has become calm in the pocket, which is amazing considering his experience."
Jaworski loves the patience Cassel exhibited.
"I am absolutely old school when it comes to young quarterbacks," said Jaworski. "I believe it's best to sit behind a veteran and learn the trade, learn how to be a professional. There are very few Matt Ryans and Joe Flaccos, who can play at a high level as rookies. Matt spent three years watching Tom Brady. That's experience. I think most quarterbacks should be brought into the league that way."
As for Cassel's negatives, Jaworski says there aren't many.
"I still think he could improve his pocket presence and move a little better. And he probably has a little bit of tendency to run," said Jaworski. "But he's improved in so many ways from the preseason when he looked atrocious. I also like the fact that he hasn't suffered any major setbacks. He's had a few tough games, but he has bounced back every time."
So does Cassel have what it takes to take the Patriots deep into January?
"If they make the playoffs, the problem I see isn't Cassel. I believe the offense is good enough to make a run," said Jaworski. "It's the pass defense. If the Patriots go against a good team with a good quarterback, I don't see them stopping anybody."
E-mail Bill Burt at email@example.com.