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Phillips: Kellen Moore Knows Who He Is, And That Alone Gives Him A Chance

IRVING, Texas – Cole Beasley is the shortest player on the Cowboys' roster. Lucky Whitehead weighs the least. Both have found roles on offense and special teams.

Lance Dunbar, at 5-8, 195 pounds, couldn't be a featured player on offense, many observers thought, until he became indispensable before his October knee injury.

Who says Kellen Moore can't make a case for becoming a capable future backup to Tony Romo?

Maybe we'll have a pretty clear picture when the season ends that he can. Or can't.

But we can't assume the latter just because the 26-year-old lefty doesn't necessarily pass the eye test.

"I've been six feet and 200 (pounds) for a long time," Moore said after the first regular-season work of his four-year career this past Saturday night replacing a benched Matt Cassel. "I know who I am."

His last statement might give him the best chance to succeed against the Bills in his first career start Sunday.

If he understands his limitations and functions within the framework of the offense he gained familiarity with during his days in Detroit working under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, then Kellen Moore might be a real find.

Now, let's be honest: Back in July, this was the kind of situation the Cowboys never dreamed, nor hoped, they would encounter in the final week of December. The expectation was a healthy Tony Romo for 16 games and a push for a second straight division title.

That hasn't happened.

But the Kellen Moore era, no matter how brief, will turn out to be an important and necessary evaluation for two reasons, and not because the Cowboys are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

First of all, as Jason Garrett has emphasized, Moore appears to give them the best chance to win at this point in the season, no matter the standings – and continue the "fight" mantra that has become the foundation of Garrett's program.

And, simultaneously, backup quarterback is now a major point of emphasis going into 2016. Jerry Jones has acknowledged the team's original Plan B for a Romo injury didn't work. The Cowboys are 1-9 without their franchise quarterback this year. They've already seen Cassel lead the huddle in eight games (seven starts).

It's a position the franchise is certain to address this coming offseason. And Moore earned the right to play more (sorry, pun intended) by sparking the offense Saturday after Cassel struggled again through four drives against the Jets.

Now, the team can see if he plays well enough to possibly enter that No. 2 conversation going into next year.

"He doesn't overwhelm you in those things where some quarterbacks can be really, really impressive, throwing the ball in a workout," Garrett said. "But when he gets closer to playing in a game in real life, 11 guys against 11 guys, that's where he gets better and better. And I think you saw some of that the other night in the game."

As Cassel can attest these last several games, a quarterback's playing status is jeopardized if he continues making drive-ending mistakes. Cassel has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions in eight appearances. Moore threw one touchdown pass and three interceptions against the Jets – the final turnover a desperation play downfield to Dez Bryant trailing in the final seconds; the other two poor reads and throws.

Moore must be more careful with the ball. He has the supporting cast with which to make plays: very good offensive line, stable running game, excellent tight end and lead receiver.

He'll be challenged by Rex Ryan's pressure-packed defense. But if he plays to the strengths Garrett and Linehan have detailed – poised, accurate, decisive – then the Cowboys' offense has a chance to operate more smoothly than it has in weeks.

Kellen Moore knows who he is. Not the tallest, not the fastest, not the strongest.

That's okay. The Cowboys don't want him attempting throws only the most gifted quarterbacks can make. Sometimes self-awareness is a player's best asset.

He has shown, with 50 wins at Boise State and a couple productive drives Saturday night, that he has a feel for the game.

Let's see how many winning plays he can make Sunday.

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