​Brandon Weeden Was Bad, But Matt Cassel Has Been Worse

Poor quarterback play has pushed the Cowboys season to the brink. How bad has it been?

Could the Dallas Cowboys really turn to Kellen Moore until Tony Romo returns in Week 11?

The answer is obviously no -- right?

Just the thought of Moore starting for the Cowboys describes how bleak their situation is at quarterback.

Moore, a four-year veteran out of Boise State, has never started a game in his NFL career, but after five games of absolutely horrendous quarterback play from Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel, Moore’s at least worth a mention as the Cowboys (2-5) look to salvage their season.

The Philadelphia Eagles are coming to town this week, fresh off a bye, and with the Cowboys season swirling around the toilet bowl, Jason Garrett announced early in the week that Cassel will remain the team’s starter.

Garrett is -- at least publicly -- remaining committed to Cassel, but after two weeks, it’s a wonder how Cassel has earned a third start.

Matt Cassel versus Brandon Weeden

Once it was announced that Romo would miss eight weeks with a broken collarbone following a Week 2 victory against the Eagles, Jerry Jones gave us one of the most entertaining quotes of the year.

“Just about as low as a crippled cricket’s ass,”  Jones said when asked how he felt about losing Romo for an extended period of time.

Six weeks after his franchise quarterback went down, it’s hard to imagine Jones is feeling any better heading into a Week 9 rematch against the Eagles.

Since Romo’s injury, the Cowboys offense has struggled to put points on the board, averaging a meager 17.2 points per game, en route to an 0-5 record.

The team first turned to Weeden, but he went 0-3 against the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and New England Patriots.

In the three Weeden starts, the Cowboys offense averaged 18 points per game -- the league average is 23. Weeden completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 738 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions.

Following a 30-6 drubbing at the hands of the Patriots in Week 5, the Cowboys announced they would be turning to Cassel coming out of their bye week.

Cassel, for whom the Cowboys sent a fifth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills to acquire, was expected to provide the Cowboys' offense with a spark, pushing the ball down the field more than Weeden had, but Cassel has -- believe it or not -- performed worse than Weeden.

In his two starts against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks, Cassel has completed only 57.7 percent of his passes for 324 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions. The Cowboys offense has averaged an anemic 16.5 points per game in Cassel's starts.

A Backup Nightmare

A look at Cassel and Weeden’s efficiency metrics paint an even more dreadful picture. In terms of  Net Expected Points (NEP), which compare a player's performance to expectation-level, Cassel has been a detriment to the team's expected scoring.

Player Passing NEP Passing NEP/P Pass Successes Success Rate
Brandon Weeden 1.15 0.01 49 46.2 %
Matt Cassel -14.86 -0.28 20 37.0%

Weeden’s 1.15 Passing NEP ranks 32nd among the 44 quarterbacks who have made at least one start this year.

Cassel’s sorry -14.86 score ranks 40th, placing him higher than only Jimmy Clausen (-16.69), Michael Vick (-19.62), Nick Foles (-21.97) and Zach Mettenberger (-24.85).

Of the 11 backup quarterbacks who have played at least one half in relief this year, either due to an injury or a coach benching the starter, Weeden’s Passing NEP ranks 5th, which places him between Landry Jones (4th, 4.33) and Matthew McGloin (6th, -2.15).

Meanwhile, Cassel has nearly been the worst backup quarterback to see significant playing time this year, ranking 8th. He's performed better than only Clausen, Vick, and Mettenberger.

The Supporting Cast

While Cassel and Weeden have both struggled mightily in their starts this year, they’ve also been playing shorthanded.

Dez Bryant missed Week 2 through Week 7 with a broken bone in his right foot. He returned in Week 8 but was obviously limited and didn’t play a full complement of snaps.

The Cowboys also lost pass-catching back Lance Dunbar in Week 4 against the Saints, stripping them of one of their most versatile weapons.

Although the Cowboys' offense has been beset by injuries, the running game has remained steady.

Over the five starts made by Cassel and Weeden, the Cowboys running game has produced 141.2 yards per game. It must be noted, though, that one-third of that production -- 233 yards -- came in the Week 7 game against the New York Giants.

Through eight weeks, the Cowboys' running game ranks third in schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP. Meanwhile, the passing game ranks a woeful 31st.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Cowboys defense hasn’t offered much help.

Over the past five weeks, the defense has surrendered 27 points per game and did not force one turnover until Greg Hardy’s interception against Seattle in Week 8.

Overall, the defense ranks a middle-of-the-pack 15th in Adjusted Defensive NEP. The run defense ranks 19th and the pass defense ranks 17th.

A solid running game saddled with an anemic passing attack and leaky defense that allows 27 points per game while forcing nearly zero turnovers is not enough to win games.

Can They Win?

Based off production, the Cowboys may have been better off sticking with Weeden, but that ship has sailed. It’s hard to imagine Garrett going back to Weeden and possibly losing the trust of the locker room in the process.

Cassel has been brutal over the past two weeks, and the challenge only stiffens this week with the Eagles' third-ranked defense, per our schedule-adjusted metrics, on the schedule.

On paper, it appears a tall task for the Cowboys, but on the other side, the Eagles' offense ranks 28th in the league, perhaps projecting this as a low-scoring slugfest.

In Week 2, the Greg Hardy-less Cowboys defense held the Eagles to only 10 points, and they’ll likely need a similar performance to have a chance this week.

The Cowboys faltered in a similar style of game last week against Seattle, but with an offense nearly as futile as the Cowboys has been, maybe a rematch with the Eagles is just what Cassel and the Cowboys needed.

If not, maybe it’s time for Moore to get a shot.

He can’t be worse than Cassel or Weeden, could he?