KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The sample size is small and comes from August, a month in which everything that happens in an NFL game should be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism.
But the Chiefs are quietly more than a little pleased with the play of their starting quarterback, Matt Cassel, through training camp and two preseason games. In those games, Cassel has completed 75 percent of his passes and taken the Chiefs to touchdowns on three of seven possessions and to a field goal on another.
The third game, in which Cassel and the rest of the offensive starters are likely to play their most in the preseason, is tonight. The Chiefs face the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cassel’s fast start may be meaningless when the Chiefs begin regular-season play Sept. 9 against Atlanta at Arrowhead. But they seem confident that Cassel’s current level of play has a good chance of continuing in the regular season.
For that, they cite a working environment for Cassel that is different under Romeo Crennel than it was under former coach Todd Haley.
It’s just not something anyone is willing to discuss in any detail on the record.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn said. “That’s a loaded question.
“I will say this: I really like what’s going on because we’re all on the same page, and it’s been great.”
Cassel and the other quarterback from last season still with the Chiefs, Ricky Stanzi, had similar answers.
“The coaches are different, the atmosphere is different,” Cassel said. “We’ve got a new head coach, new players around us. You have to make adjustments every single year, and this is just another one.”
Stanzi said: “I don’t want to get into a comparison game really, to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s necessary at this point. This year and last year are different situations for me personally, being a rookie last year and this year having an offseason. Coach Crennel is on the defensive side of things, coach Haley (was) on the offensive side of things. There’s your difference.”
Haley, a receivers coach and offensive coordinator for various NFL teams before joining the Chiefs as head coach in 2009, was naturally going to be more hands-on with his quarterbacks than Crennel, who also serves as the defensive coordinator.
Occasionally, Haley may have been too hands-on. He had some sideline shouting matches with Cassel during games.
It’s no coincidence that the one strong season Cassel had while playing for Haley, in 2010 when he went to the Pro Bowl, he had offensive coordinator Charlie Weis acting as a buffer.
One of those shouting matches happened in a Dec, 26, 2010, game against Tennessee at Arrowhead Stadium. Cassel was yanked from the game in the third quarter for a couple of plays in favor of his backup, Brodie Croyle.
When Cassel got to the sideline, Haley loudly and profanely criticized Cassel in front of his teammates. He did the same thing again the next day in a team meeting.
Cassel hasn’t been the same since. He finished that season by throwing zero touchdowns and five interceptions in the final two games, against Oakland in the regular season and Baltimore in the playoffs.
Last year was also a struggle for Cassel in the nine games he played before breaking his hand.
The Chiefs fired Haley late last season and replaced him with Crennel. Since he’s the defensive coordinator as well, Crennel spends a lot of his time on that side of things.
But the head coach sets the tone, and by all appearances Crennel’s hand has been far gentler than Haley’s was. Perhaps it’s telling that the Chiefs’ other quarterback, Brady Quinn, turned down more money from the Broncos to sign with Kansas City.
Quinn played for the Cleveland Browns when Crennel was their head coach.
“He allows you to kind of do your thing out there,” Quinn said of Crennel. “The one thing he always wants is for you to protect the ball. Being a defensive guy, he knows how valuable turnovers are. Besides that, he really allows the quarterback to kind of take over and be the leader of the team.
“I’ve always enjoyed (playing for Crennel), and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to sign here.”
After making Crennel their head coach, the Chiefs focused on creating an environment in which Cassel could flourish. They hired Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator. Daboll worked with Cassel when both were with the Patriots.
The Chiefs also signed free agents in running back Peyton Hillis, tight end Kevin Boss and offensive tackle Eric Winston. All moves were aimed at making it easier for Cassel to do his job.
“I don’t like to make comparisons,” Cassel said. “I’ll focus on this year. This year has been great so far. Coach Crennel has been supportive of us. He pushes us in the right direction. He preaches technique. As a quarterback, you appreciate what he’s doing for our ball club.
“The quarterback position is a hard job to play every single year. I’m not going to say it’s easier this year versus other years. We’ll just have to see.”