Monday, September 8, 2008

Is it Cassel or Rodgers under the most pressure?

I can’t think of any NFL quarterbacks that will be under more pressure than both Matt Cassel and Aaron Rodgers. Rookies may feel pressure, but coaches expect mistakes in the learning process and are often willing to sacrifice a season so lessons can be learned. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan were brilliant in their openers, and perhaps felt they were playing under pressure. But when it comes to Cassel and Rodgers, two former Pac 10 hurlers, there is no denying that their situations have thrown them under the microscope, with pressure built to explode, before taking a starting snap in 2008.

Rodgers has the unlikely task of replacing an NFL legend. That pressure would have been somewhat lessened, if not for Brett Favre’s name appearing on the roster for the New York Jets. A retired Brett Favre would have closed a chapter on a local hero, giving Rodgers the opportunity to begin his own. But an active Brett Favre, wearing the green of another franchise, leaves the new Green Bay quarterback open to comparison and burdened with expectations.

As it stands today, the biggest victory in the career of Aaron Rodgers came on September 27, 2003, as he led his Cal Golden Bears to an unlikely upset over top ranked USC. Across the field on the opposing sideline, Matt Leinart had the worst game of his collegiate career. And watching it all happen from the bench, Matt Cassel sat waiting his turn.

Rewind 2 games before that September date, and Cassel thought he was going to lead the Trojans in 2003. He was passed over, and had limited playing time that came as clean up duty in Southern Cal blowouts, the same role he played in New England. He watched conference hurlers such as Derek Anderson, Trent Edwards, Kellen Clemens, and Andrew Walter flourish on their amateur fields, and then receive opportunities in the NFL. But for the undrafted Cassel, it remained a waiting game. With the Patriots losing Tom Brady for the remainder of this 2008 season, Cassel will be making his first start since Chatsworth High School. Add another headliner for the Southern California city....Charles Manson, The porn industry, Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer, and MATT CASSEL.

Which of these two Pac 10 quarterbacks is in the greater pressure cooker? For me, the answer is pretty simple. It has to be Matt Cassel. The heat is turned up on both, but the expectations in Green Bay are less than New England. Cassel inherits a team riding a 20 game regular season win streak that was only seconds away from a perfect season and another Lombardi Trophy. They are Superbowl favorites again in 2008. Rodgers replaces a legend, but though he was effective, he was an old Brett Favre. Cassel replaces Tom Brady in his prime, arguably the league’s greatest passer over the past few years. Rodgers can lose a game and get a pass, but if Cassel loses one, Beantown goes into a panic. Losing in the regular season hasn’t occurred since 2006. No matter what factors lead to a negative showing on future scoreboards, the thinking will always be that "Brady would have won that game".

It’s a tough situation for both, but when you enter the league backing up Superstars, and they are lost to injury, retirement or trade, the immense heat of public opinion can bring sweat to the brow of the newest faces; before they take a single snap.

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