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Do you challenge the best or use a backup?

You can't expect much more than 225 yards and two scores from Matt Cassel.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Matt Cassel has been amazing over the past two weeks, scorching the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins defenses for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns. But this Sunday the New England Patriots go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their No.1-ranked defense. The Steelers currently hold the "triple crown" of defense - they are first in points allowed (14.5 ppg), first in rushing defense (66.5 ypg) and first in passing defense (168.8 ypg).

So what is a fantasy owner to do with Cassel? Start him or sit him and play a backup?

To answer this question and the many like it each week, you must do your homework. You must dive deeper into the numbers than just looking at the NFL defensive leaders chart.

Here is why statistics can sometimes be misleading and require more research.

Example: Suppose the Steelers play a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led offense and dominate them giving up 80 yards passing and then the next week against rookie Joe Flacco and Baltimore they give up just 120 yards. In the third game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts they yield 300 yards. The team's average would be a league-leading 167 ypg, but against superior talent they were just average.

So we look into the Pittsburgh defensive numbers and here is what we find. In their 11 games, the Steelers defense has gone up against a lot of mediocre quarterback talent (Matt Schaub, Derek Anderson, Joe Flacco, David Garrard, Fitzpatrick twice, Jason Campbell). If you throw out those games and just look at their games against quality quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Donovan McNabb) they averaged 194 yards allowed with a high of 228 by Peyton Manning. They yielded 1.25 TDs through the air and picked off less than one interception per game (.75).

Assuming that Cassel is good, but not better than Peyton Manning, you can't expect much more than 225 yards and two scores from the New England signal caller. Is that better than what your backup can do against a lesser defense?

The answer to this question will tell you which quarterback to start.

Below are the league's passing defenses and their performances against "quality" quarterbacks. You will note there are some big variations in performance.

NFL Team
Pass Def Rank
YPG
YPG vs Quality QB
Quality Rank
Pittsburgh 1 168.8 194 1
Tampa Bay 2 174.6 239 13
Baltimore 3 182.1 215 5
Washington 4 182.7 207 2
Philadelphia 5 188.9 213 4
Green Bay 6 189.2 261 19
Tennessee 7 189.5 242 16
NY Giants 8 190.5 232 9
Carolina 9 192.1 271 22
Oakland 10 195.5 218 6
Dallas 11 196.2 213 3
Indianapolis 12 197.1 233 10
Houston 13 204.8 237 12
Jacksonville 14 204.9 229 8
Cincinnati 15 209.9 242 14
Buffalo 16 211.5 243 17
Arizona 17 212.2 273 24
New England 18 215.8 241 15
Detroit 19 222.0 324 32
Cleveland 20 223.7 279 26
St. Louis 21 224.5 270 21
Minnesota 22 228.5 226 7
Atlanta 23 239.7 292 30
New Orleans 24 235.1 279 25
Denver 25 235.9 300 31
NY Jets 26 239.4 289 29
Kansas City 27 240.4 284 28
Miami 28 240.6 256 18
San Francisco 29 243.9 267 20
Chicago 30 244.2 234 11
Seattle 31 259.2 280 27
San Diego 32 265.5 271 23


Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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