As much as Washington Redskins fans, and most other football fans, like to mock Tony Romo, the fact is he's a pretty damn good quarterback. No, he's not Tom Brady, but he's been a top 10 quarterback in the NFL for a lot of years.
Without Romo, the Dallas Cowboys are dramatically less intimidating, as proven by their undefeated record with him (3-0) and winless record without him (0-8) this season. Matt Cassel is certainly no Tony Romo, and he's been on five teams in 11 years for a reason. But he's also been able to stay in the league for 11 seasons for a reason, and Dez Bryant can make any quarterback look at least competent.
The Redskins, while historically not very good in primetime, usually play the Cowboys well and this season have thrived both against bad teams and when playing at home. But just for fun, let's compare the careers of Cassel and Kirk Cousins.
Cousins has a career record of 7-13 in 25 games. He has started and finished all 11 Redskins games, but he was not credited with a win or loss in five of his previous appearances. He has completed 508 of 799 passes (63.6%) for 5,817 yards (7.3 yards per attempt, 11.5 yards per completion), 34 touchdowns, 29 interceptions and an 84.5 passer rating. He's been sacked 33 times (4.0% of dropbacks).
Cassel has a career record of 34-42 in 96 games. From 2005 to 2007, he appeared in 14 games for the New England Patriots but threw just 39 total passes. He has completed 1,484 of 2,508 passes (59.2%) for 16,629 yards (6.6 yards per attempt, 11.2 yards per completion), 101 touchdowns, 75 interceptions and an 80.0 passer rating. He's been sacked 192 times (7.1% of dropbacks).
Cousins, as I'm quite sure you know, is 5-6 this year. He has completed 268 of 392 passes (68.4%) for 2,787 yards (7.1 yards per attempt, 10.4 yards per competion), 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 91.7 passer rating. He's been sacked 17 times (4.2% of dropbacks).
Cassel has started four games for Dallas but played in five, and he is 1-4 this year. He's completed 87 of 139 passes (62.6%) for 902 yards (6.5 yards per attempt, 10.4 yards per completion), 5 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a 78.3 passer rating. He's been sacked 6 times (6.7% of dropbacks).
Alright, let's pause there. Both by career numbers and this season's numbers, Cousins has the edge. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a single team who would take Cassel over Cousins, whether they needed a signal caller for the season or for a single game. I know I sure as hell would take Cousins over Cassel in just about any situation.
But the sample size for Cousins isn't very big — essentially a season and a half in total — and the argument could be made that this season is a fluke instead of an upward trend. I don't think that's the case, but it's impossible to say for sure. So here are the numbers for Cassel's two best seasons, which are of course not indicative of his entire career, but they help show that one season can be misleading.
Matt Cassel: 2008, New England Patriots
Cassel took over for Brady after the future Hall of Famer went down in Week 1. He finished that game, going 13-for-18 with a touchdown and no interceptions, then started the next 15 games and carried New England to an 11-5 season. In total, he completed 327 of his 516 attempts (63.4%) for 3,693 yards (7.2 yards per attempt, 11.3 yards per catch), 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and an 89.4 passer rating. He was sacked a ridiculous 47 times (8.3% of his dropbacks). Having Randy Moss (69 catches, 1,008 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Wes Welker (111 catches, 1,165 yards, 3 touchdowns) certainly helped, but plenty of quarterbacks would not have won 11 games even with that pair.
Matt Cassel: 2010, Kansas City Chiefs
A year after replacing Brady in New England, Cassel was calling the shots in Kansas City. He had a brutal first season, as the Chiefs limped to a 4-11 record, but he came out in 2010 with a stellar season. Cassel played and started 15 games and led the Chiefs to a 10-5 record in that time. He completed 262 of his 450 passes (58.2%) for 3,116 yards (6.9 yards per attempt, 11.9 yards per completion), 27 touchdowns, just 7 interceptions and a 93.0 passer rating. He was sacked 26 times (5.5% of dropbacks). His primary receivers were Dwayne Bowe (72 catches, 1,162 yards, 15 touchdowns) and tight end Tony Maeki (47 catches, 556 yards and 3 touchdowns).
Of course, time has proven that's not who Matt Cassel is. Aside from those two seasons, he's never won more than four games, nor has he had a passer rating of 82 or higher (excluding 2005, when threw just 24 passes). It's become quite clear Cassel is a decent backup quarterback who can do enough to keep a team relevant if there are quality pieces around him, but he's typically not going to lead a team to a dominant season.
If the Cowboys had Bryant play all 16 games this season and held onto DeMarco Murray, Cassel would probably have been able to keep Dallas in playoff contention. Seven wins would not have been at all out of the question.
As for how all of this is relevant to Monday night's Redskins-Cowboys game, well, it's not really relevant at all. I just thought Cassel made for an interesting comparison, considering he too had an impressive first season as a full-time starter with the team he started his career with and played the occasional snap with but mostly just observed from the bench while learning the offense.
Finally, Cousins, who is 27, will be a free agent next season; Cassel was 26 when he orchestrated his impressive final season with the Patriots.
Again, I do not think Kirk Cousins is the second coming of Matt Cassel. But there are a lot of similarities, at least on paper.