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Kellen Moore States His Case to Become Lions Backup Quarterback

Detroit Lions quarterback Kellen Moore (17) passes the ball against the Cleveland Browns during a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
Jeff RisdonContributor IAugust 10, 2014

While most of the football world focused on Cleveland's backup (for now) quarterback, the Detroit Lions' own backup situation featured a clear shakeup. Third-stringer Kellen Moore definitively outplayed second-teamer Dan Orlovsky in Detroit's 13-12 win over the Browns at Ford Field on Saturday night. 

Moore impressively engineered the game-winning drive, throwing a perfect strike to speedy Corey Fuller on a go route in the end zone. Moore proved he could put some mustard on the ball and fit it into tight windows. It's time for head coach Jim Caldwell to elevate Moore past the struggling Orlovsky.

OK, I'll heed the demand to stop the presses here.

Yes, this is the same Kellen Moore who went undrafted after one of the more embarrassing workouts in recent memory, posting athletic numbers inferior to most kickers. It's the same Moore of whom Bleacher Report's Matt Miller quipped:

@rmaver6 I saw 3 CFL scouts laugh out loud watching Kellen Moore throw at the Senior Bowl. CFL isn't for bad QBs.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 28, 2014

Moore has been a lightning rod of criticism throughout his NFL career for his weak arm. He went undrafted because of that poor arm strength in spite of a truly glorious college career:

Repeating so we always remember: Kellen Moore went 50-3 at Boise State with losses by 1 pt, 3 pts and 1 pt.

— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) August 10, 2014

Yet Moore has worked hard at improving both his arm and his overall strength. It was visible in the 2013 preseason, as documented by Tim Twentyman of the team's official website. He even emphatically out-dueled the celebrated New England Patriots reserve Ryan Mallett in a preseason contest last year: 

Kellen Moore vs. Ryan Mallett, 2013 Preseason
Comp/AttYardsTDsQB Rating
Moore9/121502156.2
Mallett11/2296177.1
NFL.com gamebook

In his 2014 preseason debut, Moore one-upped another more highly touted opponent in Johnny Manziel. He demonstrated precise ball placement and a strong command of the offense. His numbers outshine both Manziel and Orlovsky:

Moore vs. Manziel vs. Orlovsky
Comp/AttYardsTDsQB Rating
Moore11/131211131.1
Orlovsky12/2389061.7
Manziel7/1163079.0
NFL.com

That made him the talk of the town in the hours after the game.

The Lions beat writers zeroed in on Moore's strong performance, from Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press to Kyle Meinke and Justin Rogers at MLive.com and even a video feature on the team's own website. 

There's a common theme in all of those informed reports, one that is sure to draw the ire of the vociferous Moore faithful who religiously trumpet their hero in comment sections everywhere. 

That message is that even though Moore is clearly outplaying the badly struggling Orlovsky, don't expect Coach Caldwell to make a change anytime soon.

Both Birkett and the MLive.com guys said as much in their videos, and Caldwell himself put the kibosh on any potential change by defending Orlovsky and pointing out the context of Moore's work in his postgame presser:

There were a couple situations where they didn't catch the ball for [Orlovsky], so it looks like maybe he didn't move the ball as well as he was capable. I think there were some extenuating circumstances there too.

When asked if he was considering a change, Caldwell would take no step further than to say "it's something we'll take a look at."

His look is unlikely to force a change. Orlovsky is Caldwell's hand-picked choice as Matthew Stafford's backup. He was one of the first players signed after Caldwell was named coach. 

Orlovsky played under Caldwell in Indianapolis in the infamous 2-14 disaster that ensued from Peyton Manning's neck surgeries. The coach is clearly secure in knowing what skills Orlovsky brings to Detroit. 

He might want to take a look back to the Connecticut product's first stint with the Lions... 

Orlovsky started seven games for the winless 2008 edition. He remains a running punchline for the infamous gaffe above, which cost that sad unit its best chance at a win. 

The new coach runs a risk of alienating his players if he clings to "his guy" instead of acquiescing to overwhelming evidence to do the contrary and elevating Moore. Right now, all the evidence suggests Moore deserves to be the No. 2 ahead of Orlovsky

If the players catch Caldwell playing favorites, the veteran Lions will quickly lose faith. After all, the system of favoritism under deposed coach Jim Schwartz was an obvious problem years ago, as noted by B/R's own Ty Schalter on his blog. 

Players lost respect for Schwartz for (among other reasons) not holding every player to the same standards. Caldwell is supposed to be a breath of fresh air and blow away those clouds of failure. If he's caught emulating Schwartz, the new boss is the same as the old boss. 

Still, Caldwell is probably prudent in giving it a little more time. 

Orlovsky struggled while playing against some starters and the second defensive unit. Moore thrived facing Cleveland's deeper roster guys, most of whom will not survive the final preseason cuts. 

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 09:  Corey Fuller #10 of the Detroit Lions drops back to pass during the fourth quarter of the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field on August 9, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Browns 13-12.  (Ph
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Moore was also aided by three Cleveland defensive penalties on the game-winning drive. They were all legitimate calls, but those would have been made had Orlovsky been under center, too. 

This week will be a critical one for the backup quarterback situation. The Lions head to Oakland for their second preseason contest on Friday. 

For Moore, it's a great opportunity to build upon the positives of the Cleveland game. For Orlovsky, it's a chance to put a miserable week in the past and reestablish his hold on the No. 2 spot. For Caldwell, it's his first real test as Detroit's head coach in how he handles this very visible battle.  

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