Before we jump all over Matt Cassel for allowing himself to get sacked 23 times (for a net loss of 116 yards) in his first six games, check out these week-by-week sack totals from a different quarterback in his first year as a starter:
Game 1: 1 (for 9 yards)
Game 2: 4 (17)
Game 3: 3 (19)
Game 4: 0 (0)
Game 5: 2 (20)
Game 6: 3 (14)
Game 7: 7 (36)
Game 8: 2 (6)
Game 9: 4 (17)
Game 10: 3 (22)
Game 11: 3 (9)
Game 12: 5 (31)
Game 13: 3 (14)
Game 14: 1 (2)
Sure, he was playing with a different offensive line, but Tom Brady once had trouble getting rid of the ball, too. He learned as he went along; 41 sacks in 14 games in 2001 turned into 21 sacks in 16 games in 2007.
Why wasn't there this kind of uproar as Brady was going down 41 times in his first full season? That's easy: Brady was replacing the statue-esque Drew Bledsoe, who took 55 sacks in 1999 and 45 in 2000 before Mo Lewis almost ended his career.
Cassel, though, is replacing Brady. And while the reigning NFL MVP has never been a scrambling quarterback, he now knows how to move around in the pocket and when to get rid of the ball. That's something Brady had to learn through experience -- the fact that his sack totals went down in five of his next six seasons speaks to what he learned.
Cassel has taken at least two sacks in every game he's played thus far; he took a season-high six (for 38 yards) against the Broncos on Monday night. Some are his fault, some are not. But he's still essentially a rookie. He's still made just five career starts. And for a first-year starter, he's not playing all that badly.
"He actually made some good throw-aways, some smart throw-aways." offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said this week. "One was in the end zone. He got out of the pocket, and we ended up getting a face-mask penalty on that; they grabbed his face mask. He had another one in that same game where he evaded the rush to the right and there was really nothing there on the play so he got rid of the ball. I think it's just a comfort level for him."
But Cassel said he knows there's still work to do. Fortunately for him, he's a young quarterback; there's work to do in just about every area. The fact that sack-taking is the most glaring -- as opposed to, say, throwing with accuracy -- could even be considered a positive.
"There are times when I’m trying to let the play develop downfield," he said this week. "If I’m standing in there too long, I just need to learn when that time clock goes off and just throw it away. That’s an area that I can help the offensive line out with. Obviously, a lot of those sacks aren’t on them; they’re on me."