Matt Cassel is back. Last seen being benched for Brady Quinn as Kansas City Chiefs fans cheered the quarterback's concussion, Cassel will be returning to the field as the starter of the Minnesota Vikings with Christian Ponder out with a rib injury. Cassel will try to redeem himself coming off a disaster season. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be doing their best to bury him in pursuit of their first win of the season.
The memory may seem quaint now, but Cassel was once a prized free agent quarterback who lived up to the hype. The Chiefs signed him in 2009 after Cassel threw 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in place of an injured Tom Brady in New England. Cassel paid the Chiefs back in 2010, completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 3,116 yards, 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions to earn Pro Bowl honors. Few would call him elite at the time, but he was steady and, more importantly, careful with the football.
Two seasons later and the script had flipped. Last season, Cassel accounted for 18 turnovers (12 interceptions, six fumbles) in just nine games played. He had four more fumbles than he did in 2010 while playing seven fewer games. Through three games this season playing with roughly the same personnel, Alex Smith has turned to ball just once and could have more touchdown passes after Sunday than Cassel managed last year. Make no mistake, Cassel was bad.
That didn't stop fans from chanting for Cassel during the Vikings' loss to the Cleveland Browns last week. Ponder -- playing part of the game on a broken rib, mind you -- struggled, going 25-for-42 passing for 228 yards and an interception. The line of thinking among fans, as it often is among all fanbases, is that the guy on the bench can't be any worse, and in this case they may be right. To expect Cassel to suddenly ignite the Vikings' offense is a tall order, however, especially against the Steelers.
Though the Vikings and the Steelers are both 0-3 heading into their bout in London, the Steelers can take solace in the fact that their pass defense has been quite good. The secondary has yet to record an interception this season, but they have also held opposing quarterbacks to just two touchdown passes through three games. Only the Seattle Seahawks have allowed fewer, and the Steelers have already gone up against two of the league's best end zone targets in A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall. The two combined for 93 yards receiving and zero scores on 10 receptions.
Cassel is 1-2 against the Steelers in his three career outings against the team. In last year's game between Kansas City and Pittsburgh, Cassel had one of his worst outings of the season, going 11-for-26 for 154 yards and an interception while taking two sacks. If any memory of that game lingers, Cassel could be in trouble at Wembley Stadium.
Or maybe not. If there is a silver lining, it's that Cassel won't be under much pressure to perform. He played very well the last time he was thrust into a starting role, going 13-for-18 for 152 yards and a touchdown to finish off the Chiefs (coincidentally) after the Brady went down during the Patriots' 2008 season opener late in the first quarter. Presumably Cassel is the same player he was then, albeit a bit older. His recent struggles are difficult to ignore, however.