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Just The Sports: Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe's Flourishing Relationship is Key to Kansas City Chiefs' Offensive Success

Just The Sports

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe's Flourishing Relationship is Key to Kansas City Chiefs' Offensive Success

The Kansas City Chiefs' vast improvement on offense that has the team currently sitting atop the AFC West standings has arrived via two avenues, one expected and one less expected but extremely promising for the future.

The improvement in the Chiefs' rushing proficiency was to be expected considering how their main running back, Jamaal Charles, performed in the second half of the 2009 season. Last season, the Chiefs' rushing DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) of -3.0 percent ranked 21st out of the 32 NFL teams, but it was only that poor because the Chiefs spent the first half of the season overly relying on Larry Johnson, who was one of the worst running backs in 2009 by every conceivable measure.

As the guys at Football Outsiders noted in their Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, once the Kansas City Chiefs unleashed Jamaal Charles in week 10, Charles was second in the league behind Chris Johnson with 968 rushing yards, led the league with six yards per carry, and was also first in the league in the second half of the season with 196 DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Charles finished the season fourth in the league with 233 DYAR and second in the league with a 20.3 percent DVOA; DYAR measures a player's total value and DVOA measures a player's value per play. Due to Charles' breakout performance, the Kansas City Chiefs were fifth in rushing DVOA over the second half of the season.

This season, the Kansas City Chiefs are seventh in rushing offense with a 7.1 percent DVOA, and Charles, individually, is second in the league with 299 DYAR and first in the league with a 30.3 percent DVOA. Taking the way in which the Chiefs ran over the league in the second half of last year into consideration, the Chiefs are merely continuing a trend of elite rushing prowess so no one should be surprised by what the Chiefs have accomplished with their rushing attack.

What is pretty surprising is the leap the passing game has made for the Chiefs, going from 25th in the NFL in passing DVOA (-14.5 percent) in 2009 to 11th in the league this season in passing DVOA (29.7 percent), thanks to Matt Cassel going from a quarterback who was below average in every statistical category, both standard and advanced, and almost the worst NFL quarterback in the league to a quarterback who is only still below average in terms of completion percentage and above average in all other areas.

Really driving the passing game's performance has been the flourishing relationship between Matt Cassel and the Chiefs' best wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe. Last year, Cassel and Bowe played in 10 games together, but their relationship was nothing to get too excited about. On passes targeted to Bowe, Cassel had a .524 completion percentage, gained 6.7 yards per pass attempt and 6.9 adjusted yards per pass attempt, threw for 12.8 yards per completion, had a 3.3 touchdown percentage, and had a 2.7 interception percentage. Throwing to all receivers during that 10-game time frame, Cassel's numbers were a .562 completion percentage, 6.3 yards per pass attempt, 5.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 11.2 yards per completion, 3.3 touchdown percentage, and 2.7 interception percentage.

On Cassel's throws to other receivers besides Bowe, he had a .574 completion percentage, 6.2 yards per pass attempt, 5.4 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 10.8 yards per completion, 3.2 touchdown percentage, and 3.2 interception percentage.

As you can see, outside of the differences, which are not even that sizable, between yards per completion and adjusted yards per attempt, Cassel experienced no great advantage when throwing to Bowe.

That all changed this season, however. This year, Cassel is a much better quarterback when throwing in Bowe's direction. In the twelve games in which they have played together, Cassel's overall passing statistics are as follows: .599 completion percentage, 7.1 yards per pass attempt, 7.9 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 11.8 yards per completion, 6.5 touchdown percentage, and 1.1 interception percentage. On his passes thrown to Bowe, Cassel has a .574 completion percentage, 8.5 yards per pass attempt, 10.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 14.8 yards per completion, 13.9 touchdown percentage, and 1.0 interception percentage. Take Bowe out of the equation, on attempts to other receivers, Cassel has a .609 completion percentage, 6.5 yards per pass attempt, 6.7 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 10.7 yards per completion, 3.6 touchdown percentage, and 1.2 interception percentage.

There has been a marked improvement in the advantage and increase in production Cassel has experienced when throwing to Bowe compared to when he is throwing to anyone else. The added value of their relationship is extremely important to the Chiefs since Bowe is the only above-average wide receiver on the roster. Therefore, Cassel leans upon Bowe heavily in the passing game, as evidenced as their extremely high correlations to each other.

This season, the correlations between Cassel's overall statistics and when he is targeting Dwayne Bowe are 0.553 for yards per completion, 0.701 for yards per pass attempt, 0.705 for adjusted yards per pass attempt, 0.641 for completion percentage, 0.789 for touchdown percentage, and .354 for interception percentage. All correlations except the one for interception percentage would be high on their own, but when you compare them to last year's correlations of 0.112 for yards per completion percentage, 0.346 for yards per pass attempt, 0.008 for adjusted yards per pass attempt, 0.141 for completion percentage, 0.070 for touchdown percentage, and 0.219 for interception percentage, you can really see just how inextricably linked the two have become this season.

As one goes, so goes the other. Fortunately for the Chiefs, they have been producing at above-average rates so their extreme interdependence has benefited the team greatly.

That the relationship between Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe is resembling greatly the relationship between a quarterback and a true number one wide receiver is promising for the Chiefs' future. The franchise already knew it could depend upon Jamaal Charles and the running game; perhaps now they will be able to depend upon Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, and the passing game to share an equal burden of the offensive load.

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