Cassel could find time to throw against Jaguars
This could be the week Matt Cassel keeps his jersey clean.
Cassel has been sacked 24 times in six starts, including 19 the last four games, and has been hurried and knocked down even more often.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) could offer him some relief when they host Kansas City (1-6) on Sunday.
The Jaguars have a league-low five sacks in seven games, struggling to get any consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Matt Schaub and Matt Hasselbeck all torched Jacksonville's secondary. Even Vince Young looked comfortable in the pocket last week against the Jags.
Could Cassel be next?
"I don't really know what the Jags' stats are, but teams have had some success throwing the ball," Cassel said. "Any time you're a quarterback you hope that you can get out there and have the ability to throw the ball. That's an area where we've struggled a bit and hopefully looking to get better in this week."
The Chiefs are coming off a bye week, which provided first-year coach Todd Haley and his staff extra time to retool an offense that hasn't found a rhythm since Haley fired Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator. Haley took over play-calling duties at that time, two weeks before the season opener.
"The bye week was great for us because we never had a real training camp with the terminology and the system, so we needed that time to really kind of just fine-tune some of those finer points that in a normal week you don't get to," Haley said. "It was like a mini-training camp for us these last two weeks."
Haley said his top priority last week was to eliminate negative plays, including sacks. Facing Jacksonville should help.
Defensive end Reggie Hayward, on injured reserve since the opener because of a broken left leg, limped through the locker room the other day and jokingly lifted his arms above his head and said, "Still in the lead."
Indeed, Hayward is tied for the team lead with one sack - and he hasn't played the last six games. Starting defensive linemen John Henderson, Terrance Knighton and Derrick Harvey are still looking for their first sacks of the season. So are linebackers Daryl Smith and Justin Durant.
The lack of pressure has become a huge concern for the Jaguars, who are a bit baffled by the results. Sure, they were forced to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme following some early injuries, but they expected to improve on last year's 29 sacks. Instead, they're on pace to set the franchise record (17 in 2005) for fewest sacks in a season.
"The thing that has been pinpointed is we're not playing consistent football," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "Being consistent is the key to good football. It's going to allow you to stay in ballgames and it's going to allow you to win ballgames. When you're consistent, you make the extra tackle, you make the extra block, you make the extra read. But when you're not consistent, you leave yourself vulnerable to big plays."
So how do the Jaguars become more consistent?
"Focusing and knowing your job and really trusting the person next to you," Mathis said. "You have to trust your counterpart and trust that he's going to make his play and he's not going to try to do your job. This league is tough enough with you just trying to do your job alone."
The lack of pressure was compounded last week at Tennessee when defenders missed tackles all over the field, allowing the Titans to run for 305 yards in a 30-13 victory.
Coach Jack Del Rio considered having his guys go through live tackling drills this week, but he reconsidered because of injury concerns. He settled on putting them in full pads, a rare occurrence during Del Rio's tenure in Jacksonville.
"Obviously, it's got to be an emphasis," Del Rio said. "You've got to tackle to play good defense. We understand that. It's not going to be an issue for us. It can't be. We'll find a way."
The Jaguars would like to find a way to get to Cassel, too. Only Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has been sacked (31) more times this season. The Chiefs, though, could get a boost if left tackle Branden Albert and center Rudy Niswanger return to the lineup. Albert missed the last two games with an ankle injury, and Niswanger injured a knee against San Diego.
With running back Larry Johnson serving a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, more of the workload could fall to Cassel.
"Hopefully I'll have some time to throw and we'll be able to do some good things," he said.
It wouldn't be out of the question against Jacksonville.
"We've had opportunities where we've been around the quarterback quite a bit and we haven't finished," Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "I think going forward, when we play faster, we emphasize finishing more, and guys play with more confidence, I think that we'll make those plays."