In the preseason of last year, Tony Romo got hurt. But alas, the season was not lost.
This preseason, Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended the first six games of the year, but there’s no time to fret. There’s still work to be done.
It’s always a challenge when a team loses one of their top players, especially when it’s an important offensive position, but life must find a way to go on. If Dallas is to do anything special this season, it’s going to require that Dak Prescott and Zeke are firing on all cylinders down the stretch. But should there be instances when they are not available, the backups need to step in and deliver. For the Cowboys, they need to make sure their “next man up” is capable of getting the job done. But who should be those players next in line for the job?
First off, before anyone get’s too excited, it’s important to note that there is still a lot of football to be played between now and the season opener. What happens during that time will have a great deal of influence over how the depth chart plays out. But here we are in the middle of August and at this point in time there are a lot of thoughts going through our minds. They may sound a little crazy, but here are a couple things on my mind.
Morris should start over McFadden
Talkin’ Cowboys recently had a poll as they were interested in seeing what fans thought about the running backs who could be called upon to fill in for Elliott. Not surprisingly, it was a close battle between Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris.
Which running back can make the biggest difference during Ezekiel Elliott's suspension?— Talkin' Cowboys (@TalkinCowboys) August 13, 2017
What may be a little surprising to some people, was that Morris came out on top, however I am not one of those people.
The coaches have been praising both these players as they have done a great job getting their body right and working hard at everything they’ve been asked to do. McFadden has the advantage in some ways as he is much more versatile than Morris. The nine-year veteran back can catch passes, block, and even play special teams whereas Morris doesn’t possess those same types of attributes.
But does that make McFadden the right choice to fill in for Zeke? I profess that it does not.
Morris has had a lot of success in the workhorse role. He’s been a 1,000+ yards rusher during the years when he’s averaged at least 13 carries a game. In fact, he’s averaged over 1,320 yards in those seasons. But he then showed a decline the last two seasons when he’s had to share with a young rookie back.
He’s extremely durable. For a ground game that will feature a lot of smash-mouth pounding, it’s important to have a player that doesn’t get hurt. McFadden, on the other hand, has a long history of getting hurt.
Morris does well in the zone-blocking scheme. He reads his blocks well, slips through the smallest of creases, and runs with good power. He’s not going to be brought down with arm tackles. McFadden on the other hand, is slower through the holes, is easier to bring down, and has a tendency to try to bounce outside on a lot of runs.
The strategy most appealing to me is to lead off with Morris. If he stays true to form as a bona fide bell-cow back that can wear opponents down as the game progresses, great! He’d be the perfect grinder to chew up some clock and protect a lead. If the Cowboys offense stalls under Morris, then they could simply spell him with McFadden. If the team finds themselves behind and in more passing situations, then McFadden would be the more ideal choice anyway. This also helps preserve McFadden’s health.
Morris is a great lead dog back and McFadden is a great change-of-pace back/third down back. But the reverse is not true.
Got to keep hangin’ with Cooper
While the fan popularity of McFadden and Morris is pretty evenly distributed, the balance is not the same when it comes to Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush. All it takes is a few nice throws from the new shiny undrafted quarterback to supplant the veteran that nobody seems to like...well, unless you’re the coaches.
It’s no secret that Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan loves Moore and attests to his ability on a regular basis. But what is that all about? Clearly, there’s a reason the coaches value Moore.
Recently, former BTB writer Joey Ickes offered up his view on what the “real” job of a backup quarterback entails.
No sir. QB2s job is to help QB1 prep for gms. followed a distant 2nd by being able to understand based on a playcard an opponents consents— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) August 14, 2017
Maybe this is the part I’m failing to see. We hear all the time about how well Kellen prepares and Jason Garrett will always tell you that Moore has a great understanding of what the team is trying to do. I certainly don’t doubt that. Moore’s intelligence and approach to the game may be a valuable asset for Dak Prescott to work alongside, but what about the moments where he has to go on the field and play football? That seems pretty important too.
I hear people say that if a team loses their starting quarterback, they’re basically toast anyways so why put that much emphasis on the backup spot? After the 2015 season, Jason Garrett made it clear that the team needs to be able to compete under any circumstances and can’t just hide behind the excuses of not having certain players available.
We all witnessed the Raiders season fall down the hill after losing their franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, last season. What if Prescott goes down for a few weeks and the Cowboys are in the middle of a playoff race? Who would you rather have to replace him, a mentor or someone who can make plays on the field?
And that is where Cooper Rush comes in. With three more opportunities to see action this preseason, it’s very possible that he comes in and plays like an undrafted QB and then nobody wants anything to do with him anymore. We’ve seen this happen before with players like Alex Tanney. But it’s also possible that he continues to play well and makes a very intriguing backup quarterback option.
On Saturday, both he and Moore were under constant pressure as the play of the offensive line did them no favors. But it was Rush that was decisive with his passes and put the ball where it needed to be. He wasn’t rattled by the pressure, kept good footwork, and made the play. And rookie or no rookie, that’s what it’s all about.
Some say that there are Cooper Rush’s that come out every year. Maybe. But the quarterback is a crucial position and finding a good one is hard. And that is something that Cowboys fans know all about. What we are seeing from Rush is worthy of excitement and if he continues to play like he has been, he needs to be on the roster. If the team wants to hang on to Moore as well, fine, but if someone needs to come on the field and make plays, they need to go with the better pass thrower. My colleague, Tom Ryle has come up with a reasonable compromise:
Kellen's primary job is to get Dak ready for the game. And if anything ever happens to Dak (knocking on wood), then his primary job should be to get Cooper ready for the game.
What about you? Where do you stand in all this?
Which backups do you like better?
This poll is closed
Kellen Moore and Darren McFadden
Kellen Moore and Alfred Morris
Cooper Rush and Darren McFadden
Cooper Rush and Alfred Morris