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Statistics, Cassel, Defenses, and Ramblings...

I've read some good takes on New England, and specifically on Cassel as he's the story in New England this season. I've read some good takes on Pittsburgh, and specifically on its suffocating defense as that's the story in Pittsburgh this season. By all accounts, this Sunday's game is pretty evenly matched, and could easily go either way.

Statistics. Once again, I work in finance, so I spend the vast majority of my waking hours going over numbers, statistics, averages, percentages, spreadsheets and flowcharts. Crunching and double checking, applying and reserving, releasing and analyzing. And I can offer a blanket metaphysical belief: statistics mean nothing. Well sure, they mean certain things ... but those meanings are quietly reserved for the aforementioned spreadsheets and flowcharts. While certain real world implications might apply, I am not yet ready to commit myself to a faith in stats. As far as football goes, stats are for two purposes: fantasy football, a wonderful marketing game that the NFL loves as it sucks countless stat-nerds into the NFL brand and product (I as well have a team so no judgment intended). The second purpose is as a contract bonus option throughout team rosters in order to avoid paying players the number they're told up front ... players are sold on this idea of a team sport, "it's all about team; it's all about the win; it doesn't matter how," but at the same time they're then told that they'll make X dollars, but X plus Y dollars if they achieve statistic A, B, and C. A double standard between front offices and the general labor force ... as in any corporation.

I offer that lengthy look at numbers as I've heard numerous times that Cassel hasn't faced a defense remotely as tough as the Pittsburgh group, an opinion I share. Similarly, that his "strength of schedule" has had him tossing balls against teams primarily with losing records. That's what the numbers say. Just as the numbers once said sub-prime mortgages were a beneficial contribution to a growing economy.

There was an ancient Greek philosopher named Zeno who proposed a theory of an arrow shot from a bow: that it could never reach its target. Why? Well first the arrow must travel half the distance between its origin and its endpoint. But it then has to travel half the distance from the midway point to the target, but then half the distance from there to the target, and half the distance from there to the target, and so on ... an infinite number of distances that can be calculated by a continuous division by two. If there are infinite measurable distances that the arrow must travel, it will never arrive at its target. Zeno's argument was not to propose that an arrow never reaches its target; his point was to demonstrate that absolute, infallible logic can be used to reach entirely incorrect conclusions.

All of that is background to state that Cassel has been learning and has had aggregate success along the way. Perhaps it's not impressive that Cassel and the Patriots laid a thrashing on Denver, a team with no defense to speak of, but those are the games that build confidence and help young players grow. You can't expect a young quarterback to face Pittsburgh and pick apart the defense, but you can from time to time expect a young player to learn the playbook, the routes, the reads, and the speed of the game along the way, against weaker defenses, and to show up prepared when he finally does go up against a top-tier D. For example, the presence of Limas Sweed in the game against Cincinnati. Many have expressed disappointment in Sweed, but just as many have expressed the patience necessary for him to grow as a professional player. It's in games against the weaker opponents where someone like Sweed is given an opportunity to contribute, learn, and grow. What he learned with his special teams mistake, as well as what he learned with his great catch during a late-game drive are both necessary building blocks to help him have more success later on. He can't be expected to be a star receiver until he learns how to be one, and can only learn how to be one by taking advantage of opportunities and learning from them.

For a Steelers fan I'm certainly offering a lot of contextual praise for Matt Cassel. Look, some stats are great as talking points; for example, Ben will end the season with the highest number of wins after five years as a starting quarterback, ever. Great. He's in phenomenal company, and that means that as a team, the Steelers have had a great 5 years. That doesn't mean he's going to go out and win every game for you. On paper, the Steelers had beaten the Bengals before either team walked onto the field last Thursday, but until the final whistle blew not a thing on any one of those papers held any meaning whatsoever. On paper Cassel has never faced a defense like he will on Sunday, but until the final whistle blows that means jack shit.

Some folks have debated my praise and surprise of young Matty Cassel due to certain statistics. All I'm saying is that the game and the stats are two very different beings. This particular game could be tight, and honestly my biggest concern is simply home field advantage for the Pats. All 5 remaining games are ‘big games' as far as the Steelers and the postseason are concerned. With New England this week and Dallas the following, I do believe it's important for the Steelers to win at least one of them. To demonstrate to the stat-nerds in the media that Black & Gold can beat up on other playoff-bound teams. To finish the final 5 games at least 3-2 and go into the postseason with momentum, emotion, and faith.

Ultimately, of course I'm hoping to see Cassel sacked 10 times, picked off at least 3, and held with no first downs. I'm just saying don't overlook the guy just ‘cause he's not Tom Brady. He can throw the ball, and he's got one of the finest groups of receivers out there ... all of whom are playing every game with their postseason on the line. And honestly, I do believe that the Steelers will win this game, but not handily: I'm guessing by either 3 or 7. But those are stats I'll look at after the game. That's when the math matters ... it's all about execution and momentum when the big guys are on the field.

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