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Can the Steelers escape the ‘Backup QB Curse’ in the playoffs?

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Having seen this whammy play out before, the Steelers are well aware of the hazards in matchups against journeyman quarterbacks.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Merely mentioning the words “backup quarterback” to your average Steelers fan is enough to send them running through the door screaming incoherently with visions of Ryan Mallett dancing in their heads. And back in 2009, just a couple of weeks after former Oakland Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski took over for epic-bust, JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders whipped the Steelers 27-24 in front of their home crowd at Heinz Field. Not that defeats of this nature have been particularly common occurrences for the Black-and-Gold, but those which Pittsburgh has suffered left such a bitter taste in our mouths that we never forgot them. So even the more optimistic Steelers fan still shudders at the mere possibility that someone like Miami Dolphins’ journeyman quarterback Matt Moore would waltz into town and knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs.

Assuming that the Dolphins currently are engaged in little more than gamesmanship regarding the availability of Ryan Tannehill for Sunday’s matchup, it seems quite likely that Moore will be taking all of the snaps in the upcoming AFC Wild Card game. Heightening fears of the dreaded Backup-QB Curse, Moore is practically an unknown quantity for a majority of Steelers Nation. In fact, he’s played so sporadically during his nine seasons as an active player that he’s averaged only three starts per season during a career divided between the Carolina Panthers and the Dolphins. Moore’s overall career stats are anything but impressive, but he has occasionally shown flashes of big-time potential, such as in 2011, when he was named the Dolphins’ MVP.

But don’t get too excited just yet. The gist of Moore’s career tale is that he’s never been much more than a convenient stand-in for the likes of former Panthers-Bears-Ravens quarterback Jimmy Clausen, former Dolphins QB (and current Jaguars backup) Chad Henne and, most recently, Tannehill. Whereas, earlier in his career, Moore typically was competing for a starting job, during the past few seasons, he’s been resigned to accept the role of designated backup on a Miami team with a contemporary history of musical chairs, casts and crutches at the QB position.

Moore’s career record as a starting QB is 15-12. Because he missed the entire 2008 season due to injury, he’s a 10-year veteran who has actually played nine seasons. Moore has a career passer rating of 58.9% and a QB rating of 81.5, along with 39 career TD passes and 30 interceptions. With his career rushing average of 1.9 yards per game, he’s not a threat to hurt you scampering from the pocket. On the other hand, in his limited appearances this season, Moore recorded a 105.6 passer rating with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

If nothing else, Moore’s career speaks of a highly determined player who, on occasion, has shown the capability to sting the unsuspecting opponent. Thus, Moore fits neatly into the Mallett/Gradkowski profile as precisely the kind of journeyman quarterback who should arouse no small degree of paranoia among Steelers fans.

Considering the Dolphins’ strong rushing attack—with second-year phenom Jay Ajayi piling up 1,272 yards and eight TDs during the regular season—Moore might present some problems for the Steelers even without notching a stellar performance on Sunday. That’s why, if Pittsburgh aims to drive a stake squarely through the heart of this elusive curse and thereby move on to the next round of the playoffs, the Steelers’ defense must make Sunday afternoon a particularly long one for Mr. Moore and his offensive teammates at Heinz Field.

In the past, it’s sometimes been said that the Steelers’ defense has a knack for making backup quarterbacks look like Hall of Fame candidates. But to extend their winning streak to eight games, and move one step closer to the big dance, the Steelers simply cannot afford to take that old, familiar road again.