With their first-round pick currently second on the depth chart, the Cleveland Browns have a bit of a quarterback controversy on their hands. They seem comfortable starting Brian Hoyer and letting Johnny Manziel develop in a backup role, but many fans would prefer to see the rookie start right now over the veteran.
The Detroit Lions, the Browns' opponent on Saturday night, have no such controversy with their starting quarterback job. It belongs to Matthew Stafford, and barring an injury, that's not going to change anytime soon.
The Lions' backup quarterback role, on the other hand, is starting to become the source of some controversy. Dan Orlovsky essentially became the Lions' backup quarterback the second he signed with the team this offseason, but his performance on Saturday night against the Browns raised some eyebrows, and not in a good way. He went 12 of 23 for 89 yards, and generally speaking, he wasn't impressive.
The reason there is controversy is because Kellen Moore went 11 of 13 for 121 yards against the Browns, and he threw the game-winning touchdown. Moore is currently Detroit's third-string quarterback, and earlier this year, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew indicated that he didn't feel comfortable with the idea of Moore backing up Stafford. That's why the Lions signed Orlovsky and considered drafting a quarterback. However, with Orlovsky struggling and Moore shining on Saturday night, many believe that Moore should at least be considered for the Lions' backup role.
Here's what Lions head coach Jim Caldwell had to say about Moore potentially getting more reps going forward (quotes provided by the Lions):
"It’s something we’ll look at and just see. He functioned pretty well, I think, in the situation that he was in. I think Dan (Orlovsky) did some decent things too. There were a couple situations where they didn’t catch the ball for him, so it looks like maybe he didn’t move the ball as well as he was capable. But, I think there were some extenuating circumstances there too. Both guys are smart guys that you can see they understand the offense and function within it fairly well."
And here's what Caldwell said about the possibility of Moore getting into the mix for the backup quarterback job:
"It’s a long stretch that we have going. Everything is a competition. We will take a look at it and see how it matches up and where that falls. In due time – this is the first ball game. You know how that is. Every week is a little different."
Although Caldwell said that "everything is a competition," his comments don't exactly make it sound like there is suddenly a battle for the backup quarterback role. That's not a surprise, though. Even though Orlovsky had a rough game and Moore played well, the backup job still belongs to Orlovsky. Perhaps Moore deserves a stronger look going forward, but keep in mind that he mainly went up against the bottom of the Browns roster. It's not like he was out there lighting up the Browns' starters or even their second-team defense.
The other main thing to keep in mind is that Orlovsky has started and won games for Caldwell in the past (in Indianapolis in 2011). Basically, this comes down to a known vs. an unknown for Caldwell. Regardless of what happened on Saturday, Caldwell knows what he can expect out of Orlovsky after coaching him a few years ago. With Moore, Caldwell has coached him in a number of practices this year, and he's seen him perform in part of one preseason game, but that's not exactly much to go on.
Given that the Lions already had Moore on their roster when they basically hand-picked Orlovsky to back up Stafford, it's going to take a lot more than one questionable preseason performance for the backup job to be up for grabs. Even if we see a repeat performance from both Orlovsky and Moore next week, chances are Orlovsky will still be the Lions' backup. That may not seem fair to Moore, but this is all about a comfort factor, and Caldwell seems to be a lot more comfortable with Orlovsky.
Of course, if the Lions are ever in a situation where their backup quarterback has to see real action in the regular season, chances are it won't matter if it's Orlovsky or Moore who steps in for Stafford. Shaun Hill is quite possibly the best backup in the league, but he's now in St. Louis, and it's not like the Lions even have a Drew Stanton-caliber quarterback on the depth chart in case of an emergency. In the past, the Lions were able to remain competitive when Stafford was banged up, but this year they really can't afford any kind of injury that keeps him from playing. If he goes down, well, it won't be pretty.
At the end of day, the reality is that we tend to make too much of preseason performances, both good and bad. With Moore, for example, it's tough to judge what his performance really means considering many of the players he faced likely won't even be on an NFL roster in a few weeks. He definitely had a better night than Orlovsky, but would that have been the case if the roles were reversed and Moore got the backup reps? I suppose there's only one way to find out, but the coaching staff doesn't exactly seem interested in creating more of a backup quarterback controversy than there already is.