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The Irritating Irony of Backup Quarterbacks

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The Irritating Irony of Backup Quarterbacks

Backup quarterbacks in the NFL are like the airbags in your car; you’d love to go your entire life without ever seeing the airbags deployed. If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself wondering if they would even work properly if needed.

We spend a lot of time talking and worrying about the backup QB position. We did it even when Tony Romo was in his physical prime, but especially now that he’s nearing the end. It’s of even greater concern this year after a miserable 2015 campaign, primarily ruined by Romo’s absence due to injury.

However, for all our talk and worry, there’s a reality that we have to accept: No matter how good the airbags in your car, it’s often still a painful experience when they come out. The same is true for backup quarterbacks.

It’s rarely a positive experience.

Cowboys Blog - Staff Wars Episode Three: Starting Cassel the Right MoveLast year, the Dallas Cowboys had a guy that most teams would covet as a backup option in Matt Cassel. On paper, he was about as good a non-starter as you could have. After all, he was the guy who once came in for a broken Tom Brady and kept the Patriots competitive and in the playoffs. He also had a few solid seasons as a starter for the Chiefs. He had to be one of the top backups in the NFL, right?

For reasons that couldn’t really be shown on paper, Cassel was a failure in Dallas.

Granted, he stepped into an offense that was either missing Dez Bryant or had him limited with health issues. But he also had a Top 5 rushing attack supporting him and two QB-friendly receiving options in Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. Still, Cassel could barely move the offense at times and the Cowboys were barely competitive.

There’s a reason that Cassel’s 2010 season with New England got so much attention; it’s an anomaly. The occasional heroism of a backup QB – like Jason Garrett’s infamous Thanksgiving Day performance in 1994 – is heralded and remembered because of how surprising it is. These guys aren’t supposed to be great, and usually they aren’t.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Release QB Kellen Moore, Practice Squad HopesThat’s why I laugh when I see people posting 500-word comments about Kellen Moore.

Does it really matter how good his college stats were? Or what his Pee Wee coaches thought of his moxie and intelligence? So far the guy has lost every game he’s played in and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

That’s not a Kellen Moore problem; he’s just a backup QB. That’s how it goes.

This isn’t to say that backup QB isn’t important or doesn’t deserve all the investment you can give it. I loved it when Dallas was willing to pay $2-$3 million a year to keep guys like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton behind Romo. Those times when your starter has to miss a couple of series, or even a couple of games, it’s great to have a backup who can come in and give you as good a shot at winning as possible.

But, as we know from even those Johnson-Kitna-Orton years, and especially from 2015, it doesn’t really matter who you bring in. Backup QBs aren’t going to succeed over the long haul. They wouldn’t be backups if they were winners.

As had been said many times, you hope that the preseason is the only time you ever see those reserve quarterbacks. When you see them this August, don’t let any proficiency or production fool you. Don’t think that it will translate to what happens if that guy has to walk into a real game. History has told us that it rarely does.

When those airbags come out, no matter how good they are, the car is often still wrecked. Sadly, the same thing goes for backup quarterbacks and your season.

Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

25 Comments
  • https://insidethestar.com/ Bryson Treece

    500 word comments? How about just five words… Kellen Moore, a serviceable backup.

  • https://kevinrobertbrady.wordpress.com Kevin Brady

    Unless you expect the young QB to be your guy for the future, I usually like the backup to be a veteran, even if he is a journeyman career backup. The thing is, historically Dallas seems to like that too, which makes Moore's position on the team odd. Maybe Weeden and Cassel scared them off from "veteran" guys.

    • http://PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      I've wondered about that too. Why go away from proven veteran backups for Moore? Must have something to do with the Linehan connection.

      • Hilgenberg

        Jess, there are very important bits of information that you may be overlooking. 1) If Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Tony Romo & others didn't see something special in Kellen Moore — he would already be GONE — in spite of Linehan's influence. 2) Most forget that Kellen Moore did NOT have the benefit of ANY Training Camp with the Cowboys or ANY Preseason Games with the Cowboys. KM will not make excuses. 3) But Dez Bryant was hurt and mostly unavailable. Jason Witten played but was slowed by injuries. The passing game & offense had been impotent for weeks. Kellen Moore had VERY little chance to practice with his receivers to develop timing. Terrance Williams, Brice Butler & Cole Beasley all showed potential — but ALL of them were sometimes undisciplined in their routes and ALL of them had key drops that hit them in their hands. 4) In 2012, NFL QB Guru Jon Gruden raved about some of KM's throws and said that if Moore was 2-3 inches taller — he would be one of the Top 3 QBs drafted in the 1st Round. 5) Most of the high draft choices that were "can't miss" QB prospects that FAILED miserably in the NFL, failed because they couldn't "read" defenses or cope with the speed of the NFL game and got rattled and made LOTS of mistakes. Jon Gruden & others say that Kellen Moore is a "Savant" who is an expert on NFL offenses AND defenses. With a bit of practice, Kellen Moore can be a master at VERY fast paced offense. He destroyed the SEC Georgia Bulldogs and others with a lightning fast offense. KM earned the nickname of Kaptain Kool because he never got rattled in 53 college games. BTW, I have no problem if the Cowboys acquire a veteran backup QB. But I know better than to bet against Kellen Moore in a fair competition ….. in anything.

    • George Johnson

      Kevin Brady: I think you are missing what the coaches and FO have said or you don't believe them. They have said they think K Moore can be a good backup for T Romo. They have said such things as he knows how to play, he has the "it" factor, the players want to play with him, he follows the game plan to a tee, he executes like the coaches want, he can do things that can't be coached, he compensates for his lack of a strong arm with accuracy and uncanny anticipation, he is very smart and instinctive at pocket passing, he is very experienced from all the reps he has had over the years, etc. They therefore likely think K Moore can play better overall than a lot of the veterans. So they are willing to go with him until he proves them otherwise. If he can do the job, they probably have no problem with him as a long term backup to T Romo or even the next T Romo as he is young as QBs go.

  • George Johnson

    It is important that you have a good backup especially with T Romo's health and age. You can't just throw the season away if T Romo goes down for a short period or for an extended period. You also have the possibility of the backup only playing for one, two or three games and each win is important if you want to get into the playoffs. I would personally describe the backup as one of the critical positions on the team. Many starting QBs get hurt during the season as they are a constant target. The coaching staff and FO have decided that K Moore can be a good backup to T Romo as they have said so. He is somewhat unproven but has shown them enough to make them think he can do the job. If he can't do the job in TC and preseason games, then they are likely to look for a veteran QB to bring in. They evidently have reasonable confidence in him based on their decisions to date and the fact it will likely be slim pickings for a veteran QB later on. S Linehan has said some things about K Moore skills/abilities that give you some insight into their thinking. He has said K Moore understands the game. He said he has a lot of experience and a good feel for how to play. He said he is smart and has a good approach. He said K Moore can see and move around to make accurate throws. He said his execution of the offense looked like what they expect. He said K Moore played pretty well in 2015 except for two bad quarters. He made some mistakes in 2015. S Linehan said there is a belief factor by the players in K Moore which is important. He said K Moore approaches the game similar to T Romo therefore not much has to change if K Moore comes into the game. He said there are stronger arms in the NFL but K Moore throws accurately and on time. He said his arm is strong enough, really accurate and his anticipation is really unique. He said he makes up for his lack of a strong arm with accuracy and uncanny anticipation. One of the coaches said he can do things that can't be coached which is quite a compliment. I am not worried about K Moore based on what the coaches and FO have said plus I have followed him his whole career and he always plays way better than anyone thinks he can play.

    • Ronald Dulaney

      Jess, That being said, GREAT airbag metaphor (or was it a simile?)!!

    • http://PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      George, we've heard the same stuff about every backup QB that's ever been here. The coaches always glow about guys who are sitting on the bench. All that really matters is what they show in games, and so far Kellen hasn't shown us much. Obviously that could change as he develops, and we all hope it does. But everything that Scott Linehan and other coaches have "said" doesn't have much value.

      • George Johnson

        Jess: I take the coaches and FO at their word as I have nothing else to go on and they are a lot closer to it then any of us. Can they be wrong; sure. The description by S Linehan of K Moore's skills/abilities I believe are pretty accurate based on everything I know about K Moore. He is likely to play well in preseason games. He is also likely to win some games and have good QB stats if he has to play for T Romo during the season. In 2015 he didn't win any games but a few better plays and he could have won one and possibly two so he is close to being an effective 2nd team backup QB. If you factor in it was his first time playing against first team defenses and he had limited reps to get ready, he did fairly well. I expect him to improve on the 2015 performances but he will make more mistakes as no QB does not make mistakes.

      • Hilgenberg

        Jess, if Kellen Moore were really the slow, clumsy, noodle-armed mini-Dwarf that some think he is — there are a number of things that MUST have occurred in his 53 college games as a starting QB. 1) He MUST have been surrounded by a whole team of World Class Athletes to prop him up. NOT SO! On a regular basis, the Broncos faced opponents that were considerably bigger, faster & more athletic. 2) Such an immobile little dwarf MUST have had lots of interceptions, tipped passes, sacks, fumbles & major mistakes. NOT SO! And Kellen Moore abused MANY future NFL star defenders, certified QB Eaters, and their defensive coaching whizzes. 3) Kellen Moore MUST have been totally overwhelmed by Big conferences like the SEC, PAC-10, etc. NOT SO! Kellen Moore totally DEMORALIZED the SEC Eastern Division Champion Georgia Bulldogs AND their fans. Every member of the Georgia defense went to the NFL and some have become stars. Ask those NFL defenders if they think that KM can play QB well in the NFL. KM & his Broncos also beat highly ranked Oregon twice, Virginia Tech, TCU, etc. Kaptain Kool has the skills that could lead the Cowboys to a championship IF needed. Bring on the competition if you are a doubter.

  • Ronald Dulaney

    Jess, when you right,"So far the guy (Kellen Moore) lost every game he’s played in and thrown more interceptions than touchdowns", you could be referencing most any NFL quarterback, including Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, and a few other great ones who struggled their first THREE games. My point being that THREE NFL regular season games does not constitute a reliable sample on which to make a valid judgement of a QB's effectiveness. Why not give the Dallas coaches' judgement of and faith in Kellen Moore the benefit of the doubt until a more reliable sampling is forthcoming? By the way, Troy Aikman through 8 interceptions and no touchdowns in his first three games, and finished his first year with 9 TD's and 18 interceptions.

    • http://PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      Fair point, Ronald. However, those examples you cited were also rookies in those games. Moore has had four years of development as a reserve. That's a major difference and gives him much less excuse for poor play. And the airbag comparison was indeed a simile. 😉

      • Ronald Dulaney

        Yeah, Jess, but as everyone knows and loudly reminds all Kellen Moore fans, all the training camp exploits and excellent preseason performances can't hold a candle to the actual speed and grind of an NFL regular-season game. And if you'll recall, Tony Romo, another undrafted free agent, was a cowboy "project" for three years before he got into his first regular season game and promptly threw three interceptions. Moore was thrown into his first NFL game with no prior first-team reps, and his second, against what had become a top 5 defense which pulverized the Jets playoff hopes the following weekend. But his last game, he more than doubled his previous qbr and broke an NFL record for passing yards by a rookie at home! Not bad for a rookie beginning. I think we can agree with the coaches that if he continues to acquit himself in the preseason as he has in the past, we should feel confident with him as the backup, and certainly the best helper and spotter for Tony than the other qbs on hand or any used up veteran they could bring in. Howboutdemboys!

  • http://PigskinHub.com Zac Fields

    Jess HaynieI've wondered about that too. Why go away from proven veteran backups for Moore? Must have something to do with the Linehan connection.

    I think there's some Linehan influence here, but I also think the Cowboys might be learning the error of their ways.

    So far, adding proven veteran quarterbacks has not yet, in any single season, given them any tangible benefit other than on paper. Granted, you could argue if the Cowboys ever needed Kyle Orton for a 2-3 game stretch to save their playoff chances he probably would have delivered but I'd call the Kyle Orton situation… special… to say the least. That was a guy who had starting opportunities when he took the backup job in Dallas, and then left Dallas and went right into a starting role the next season with Buffalo. It was always odd that he took the Dallas backup job to start with.

    But as good as Jon Kitna was, his only opportunity to help us came during a season that was already lost. Weeden was a major flop. Cassel was a flop. One could argue if you replaced Kitna, Orton, Cassel, and Weeden with 3rd-4th round drafted quarterbacks, we wouldn't be any worse off than we are today. A good case could be made that we'd have likely found a serviceable backup, at least, by now.

    I think the Linehan influence is what keeps the Cowboys rolling with the assumption that Kellen Moore counts as a veteran backup at least for 2016 while they develop Dak Prescott.

  • http://PigskinHub.com Zac Fields
    InsideTheStar.com User

    And if you'll recall, Tony Romo, another undrafted free agent, was a cowboy "project" for three years before he got into his first regular season game and promptly threw three interceptions.

    The Kellen Moore truthers keep bringing this up, but Tony Romo was a Pro Bowl quarterback at age 26 with a 6-4 w/l record.

    Kellen Moore turns 27 next week, has two starts and two losses to his name, and would be 30 at the earliest estimate of Tony Romo's retirement (possibly 31 or 32, even). To refer to Moore as a "project" is very optimistic to put it kindly. He's the guy they're passing off as a veteran backup (no different from Weeden, Orton, Kitna, Cassel, etc) for 2016 and honestly he should be thrilled with that label because I think most would argue he hasn't earned the title "veteran backup" because he has an enormous lack of NFL starting experience compared to the players who have served that role over the last several years.

    Objectively, it would take an amazing sequence of events to change Moore's status to be anything more than "2016 Cowboys backup quarterback." He would need Tony Romo to suffer an injury of at least a few games and he would have to put forth a performance during that span that is worlds more impressive than the two mediocre-at-best performances he gave us in 2015.

    • George Johnson

      The anti-Kellen Moore truthers keep making statements to question K Moore and his accomplishments in the NFL to date. Remember he was undrafted and had to start at the bottom, trying to earn a 3rd team QB position and was lucky to even get the chance based on the draft experts evaluation of him. K Moore is not a veteran at this point and got his first experience playing against first team defenses in 2015. I know he is not a rookie but he also is not a veteran. He is still learning, developing, adjusting, improving, etc. He does have a lot of experience to rely on but most of it came before he even became an NFL player. The coaches have said he can be a good backup to T Romo. I believe them. He is likely to improve with more experience and reps as would most QBs. He is likely to play well in preseason games because of his increased experience, increased reps and readiness at this point and then the fans and sports writers may have more confidence in him. If he has to play for T Romo in 2016 he will likely win some games and have good QB stats. Will his inexperience in NFL season games show up some more as it did in 2015? ; probably as the more experience and reps he gets the better he can play. Will he ever be T Romo's replacement? ; probably not. At this point he is lucky to just be the 2nd team backup for T Romo but could easily turn out to be a solid backup, and the coaches think so to.

  • DivinasDeamon

    121 83 68.6 884 7.3 212.3 39 5 4.1 7 5.8 6 35 79.4 Anyone guess what that is? I will wait Yup you guessed it (I hope,) those are Tony Romo's stats in 2015 ATT=121 Comp=83 68.8 PCT for 884 yards with 5 TD's to & INT's that is playing in 4 games for some amount of time last year Now can anyone guess what these are? 104 61 58.7 779 7.5 252.0 36 4 3.8 6 5.8 5 23 71.0 Yup Kellen's numbers, and would ya look at that in 2 games and some change he almost caught Romo's numbers, had 2 more INT's than TD's just like Romo, 1 less touchdown, his average yd's were 7.5 to Romo's 7.3. also KM's passing TD percentage was 3.8 to Romo's 4.1, again in less games. ooh here is a good one, average yds/gm KM with 252 to Romo's 212. Now to be fair Romo did 8 points better on QB rating (ESPN) so 79.4 to 71.0 but if we use that as a measuring stick Weeden had a rating of 92.1. So there is that. Now these are hard facts please use concrete stats to disagree if you do. Again these are all from ESPN Cowboys site. In summation I think they will be fine with KM. If we must continue this charade please take a peak at Romo's first 2 starts and compare for more proof Kellen can hang. I apologize for the formatting ESPN doesnt like you copying its stat line for some reason on my mac. Works fine from my PC, so if you need to know what each number is related to hit ESPN's site and look at ROMO's individual stats and KM's

    • George Johnson

      DivinasDeamon: I am a K Moore fan. I think stats in just a few games doesn't mean too much. I put more faith in what the coaches have said and what I saw with my own eyes. K Moore's body of work including ten and one half quarters of play in 2015 convinced the coaches and FO that he deserves a chance at 2nd team QB until he proves them otherwise. It looks like he is going to get the chance at the 2nd team QB position. I fully expect him to develop into a solid 2nd team backup for T Romo. I am getting more and more confident in K Moore because of what S Linehan has said. He said he can throw the ball adequately and makes up for his lack of a strong arm with accuracy, timing and uncanny anticipation. If he can do that I know he has all the other pocket passing skills/abilities to be effective in the NFL. It is his physical limitations and primarily his arm strength that are the issue/problem for him playing and S Linehan has said this is not much of an issue. This says K Moore is going to make it in the NFL.

      • DivinasDeamon

        Appreciate the comment! I only use those stats to point out the fallacy of the argument that he cant make it in the NFL, and showing he almost eclipsed Romo in just 2 starts and some change with no preseason no 1st team reps til Cassel was out, and he still did what he did. I am actually a huge Kellen Moore fan, Boise boy all my life, actually wearing a KM jersey now lol. Met him before, super good guy and uber smart about football, and I have way too much KM memorabilia for any straight man to have for another man! In fact my wife hates me cuz if we have another child his name will be Kellen. yup a homer big time! and GO BSU!!! GO COWBOYS!!!

  • https://insidethestar.com/ Bryson Treece

    Hilgenberg: That starts off wrong from the very beginning… There are a number of things that must be true in that case, but the very first one is that NCAA football must be equal to NFL football. Since it's not, it invalidates most of the list you gave. Moore was great in college, but college isn't the NFL.

    • Divinasdeamon

      I hear ya on the NFL not being college but I do like him pointing out the Georgia defenders as I remember after that game a lot was made about how well KM led the team that day. And in some defense of hilgenberg quite a few qb's that KM showed up with lesser talent around him now start in the NFL. Dalton, osweiller, kaepernick(his team only beat BSU the one time if memory serves) I think there are others but yeah he hung with those guys and made the throws necessary to win. Ooh and Carr too, who only won after KM was gone and of course he had made huge strides and is a great QB now.

  • Greg Saras

    Jess Haynie: You look like you played some quarterback before……..yeah, right. LOL. Look, yes college isn't the nfl, duh!!!! KM went 50-3 at BSU. What idiot commented here he is not a winner? Whoever it was must be illiterate and not know what 50-3 means. Another thing, this is his 5th year yes, how many first team snaps has he had? With Detroit? With Dallas? How many qb's have thrown for 400+ yards in their second career start? Add to it no preseason, no first team snaps, no star receiver, hobbled right end etc. etc. I don't want to hear " Washington as their scrubs in". Obviously if that's your argument, go back to the refrigerator, you have not played football or any other sport because you would know that those guys are still in the NFL, they are fighting for respect, fighting for a job and NOBODY PLAYS TO LOSE UNLESS THERE IS A FIX!!# So with all that being said and the 1000's of other qb's who have been 'thrown' into that same circumstance and thrown for 400+, all you "football geniuses" go gnaw on your fried chicken and suck down your 6000 ounce sized soda and SHUT THE F@** UP!!!# Let's see what KM can do when given an honest chance. Oh yeah, if you all were really so "football savy" would you be armchair coaches. TRUE IDIOTS!!!

    • http://PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      Sorry for the delay in responding. Just got back from the fridge… You guys crack me up. You act as if we're the only ones who have viewed Kellen Moore as a low value pro prospect. He went undrafted, meaning 32 professional coaches and scouting departments decided he wasn't worth a pick. The Lions had to make a choice between Moore and Dan Orlovsky and chose Orlovsky, who's over 30 with no future potential. Yes, Tom Bradys and Tony Romos can happen from among the ranks of the discarded. But they are the exception to the overwhelming rule. It doesn't take "football savvy" to know that, just good old common sense.

  • Greg Saras

    Common sense also says a guy should get more than 10 quarters before you shelf him. So Detroit went another direction, that doesn't mean he can't play. I am not saying KM is the exception. I am saying give him a chance. Now that he will have a TC and snaps with the first team, now see what he can do. Some guys are great practice players but put them in the game and they are dear in headlights. I know for a fact KM is not a dear in headlights. But, I am sure you are right. You are quick to judge, quick to condemn and quick in bed I imagine.

    • Divinasdeamon

      Usually I'm the one getting upset about the lunatic things people say about KM. Good work standing your ground Greg and for the Orlovsky getting picked over KM that was in fact Caldwell's doing (talking about the "authors" comment), he brought Orlovsky, yes the 0-16 Orlovsky in and basically gave him the position even though they said it was an "open competition." I also like the statement Jess made about the Brady's and Romo's of the world, or undrafted lowly recruited players, the kicker being is we dont know if Kellen is the next Romo or Tom Brady, he has to have a chance first and disregarding him without one, unless you are in fact Jason Garrett or Scott Linehan seems you speak from a special place, (insert dirty place here,)

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