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Why Cooper Rush moved the sticks against the Colts, and why Kellen Moore didn't

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The Cowboys may have a real roster battle on their hands at quarterback.

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ed. Note: Lots of graphics loading, you many need to be patient.

In the immediate aftermath of yesterday's game, a lot of voices are calling for the immediate promotion of Cooper Rush to QB2 in Dallas, preferably with Kellen Moore offered a coaching job and taken out of the depth chart altogether.

After all, while Cooper Rush was moving down the field seemingly with impunity en route to a 148.8 passer rating against the hapless Colts, Kellen Moore was killing drive after drive with a Blake Bortles-esque 67.8 passer rating.

Worse still, while Rush threw for a very strong 10.2 YPA, Moore only managed a meager 6.2 YPA. At first glance, that suggests Rush was throwing downfield with confidence, while Moore was playing Checkdown Charlie and consistently throwing short of the sticks.

To find out whether there is any truth to that, I reviewed each QBs first nines passes to figure out what was going on. Here's the detail of each play, with a summary at the bottom of the article.


Kellen Moore, Drive No. 1

Play # 1: K.Moore sacked at DAL 20 for -8 yards. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by IND-L.Edwards at DAL 15. L.Edwards for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Moore's day got off to a bad start.


Kellen Moore, Drive No. 2

Pass # 1: K.Moore pass short left to G.Swaim ran ob at DAL 42 for 17 yards.

Moore throws it short of the sticks on a bootleg, but Geoff Swaim (87) manages to turn it into a first down. Equally open, and five yards farther up the field, was James Hanna.

Brice Butler (19) might have been open even farther up the field, but there's no camera angle to show this. In any case, he ended up throwing a key block that helped Swaim get so far up the field.

Pass # 2: K.Moore pass short left to B.Butler to IND 41 for 10 yards

On 2nd-and-3, Moore throws a short pass to Butler for a first down.

Pass # 3: K.Moore pass incomplete short middle to J.Hanna

This is an interesting situation.

The Colts had lined up with a single high safety, the Cowboys in a two tight end set. Geoff Swaim (87) was lined up next to the tackle, released upfield and is already out of the picture above. James Hanna (84) is on a shallow crossing route in the middle, Brice Butler (19) has already beaten the corner on the right side, and Noah Brown (85) is open beyond the 1st-down marker.

The ball goes to Hanna, but is batted down.

I wonder if it had been batted down if the ball had been thrown to Butler.

Pass # 4: K.Moore pass incomplete short left to B.Butler.

Moore comes under pressure and moves out to his left, where he finds Brice Butler fairly open about 15 yards beyond the 1st-down marker. Unfortunately, the ball drops short of Butler.


Kellen Moore, Drive No. 3

Pass # 5: K.Moore pass short middle to B.Brown to DAL 32 for 4 yards

Not really much Moore could have done better here.

Both outside receivers are covered. Brian Brown (18) and James Hanna (84) are crossing underneath (and Hanna isn't even looking for the ball yet), so Moore throws it to Brown for the short completion.

Pass # 6: K.Moore pass to B.Butler to IND 47 for 21 yards

The Cowboys have four receivers running routes on this play, all are running their routes beyond the first-down marker, and Moore connects with Brice Butler on a slant for a big gain.

Pass # 7: K.Moore pass incomplete short right to J.Hanna

The gamebook says short right, but this was a long throw down the sideline to Hanna, who came down out of bounds. Would have been a 22-yard pass.

Pass # 8: K.Moore pass incomplete short right to B.Butler

Again, somewhat misleading gamebook summary. This was a TD throw from the Colts' 14-yard line that Brice Butler couldn't catch in bounds.

Pass # 9: K.Moore pass incomplete short middle to N.Brown.

This was a designed play to get Noah Brown (85) free in the middle, and even included a little rub route by Brian Brown (18), who briefly crosses Noah's route to re-direct the defender into combined traffic and thus create separation for Noah. Unfortunately, that didn't work.

And neither did Noah Brown's route, which should have been run parallel to the line of scrimmage, but as he started to drift towards the goal line, the defender was able to undercut Brown's route and disrupt the pass.

Moore may not have led Brown enough on the throw, but the play was already broken before Moore threw the pass.


Cooper Rush, Drive No. 1

Pass # 1: C.Rush pass deep left to U.Nwachukwu to DAL 42 for 18 yards

As Rush rolls to his left and releases the ball, he two tight ends in his sight: Jake Barwin (89) is about a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, Geoff Swaim (87) is running an out route along the first-down marker. Both are uncovered.

But who does Rush throw to?

Uzoma Nwachukwu, who's about eight yards beyond the first-down marker and in even tighter coverage.

Nwachukwu comes down with the ball, the Colts challenge the completion, but are overruled.

Pass # 2: C.Rush pass short right to B.Brown ran ob at IND 43 for 15 yards

This is similar to the first pass.

TE Geoff Swaim (87) is running parallel to the line of scrimmage and would make a safe underneath target. But the ball goes flying over Swaim's head into the waiting arms of WR Brian Brown (18), who ran an out route 15 yards upfield.

Pass # 3: C.Rush pass short middle to L.Lenoir to IND 20 for 10 yards

This was a quick dumpoff to Lenoir on a slant route for a first down.

Pass # 4: C.Rush pass short right to N.Brown for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN

On this play, which looks like a designed play for Noah Brown, Geoff Swaim (87, not in the picture) ran a seam route up the field to draw safety coverage, Rod Smith (45) is completely open in the flat, and Brian Brown (18) ran a quick comeback route and is open underneath.

But Rush commits to Brown, who has just juked the corner but still has a safety trying to cover him over the top.

Rush placed the ball in the near corner of the endzone where only Brown can get to it, leaving the corner and safety out of range.


Cooper Rush, Drive No. 2

Pass # 5: C.Rush pass short right to R.Smith to DAL 42 for 9 yards

On this play, the Colts are rushing five, and TE Blake Jarwin stays in to block the blitzing linebacker.

As Rush scans the field, Brian Brown (18) is in double coverage up the middle of the field, and Noah Brown (85) on the right side has also drawn double coverage. Of the wide receivers, only Uzoma Nwachukwu (16, not in the picture above) on the left of the field is in single coverage, but Rush is not looking that way. Instead he sees Rod Smith (45) breaking free (and the Colts linebacker going in the wrong direction) and throws it to Smith for an easy 9-yard gain.

The ball is thrown well and Smith can get some nice yards after catch.

Pass # 6: C.Rush pass incomplete short right to B.Jarwin.

Facing pressure, Rush tries to dump off the ball to Blake Jarwin (89), but the ball is low and behind target.

Without the pressure, he might have been more accurate, or he might have seen Brian Brown (18) open over the middle.

This would be Rush's only incompletion of the night.

Pass # 7: C.Rush pass short right to U.Nwachukwu to IND 45 for 10 yards

Once again, there would have been an easy completion underneath to Brian Brown (18) on a crossing route, but Rush goes for the throw that gives him a first down and connects with Uzoma Nwachukwu (16) near the right sideline for a 1st down.

Pass # 8: C.Rush pass short right to U.Nwachukwu to IND 3 for 8 yards

This play looked like it was supposed to be a screen play for Nwachukwu (16), except the screen blockers seemed to forget they were supposed to block. Nwachukwu still scampered for eight yards to get close to the line.

Pass # 9: C.Rush pass short right to L.Lenoir for 3 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The final touchdown of the night for Rush was a short pitch and catch.


The following table neatly summarizes each QB's nine plays above.

First 9 pass plays vs Colts
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Moore 1st dn 1st dn Incompl. Incompl. Complete 1st down Incompl. Incompl. Incompl.
Rush 1st dn 1st dn 1st dn TD Complete Incompl. 1st down Complete TD

Green denotes plays that resulted in a first down or TD, yellow are completions that didn't result in a first down, and red are incompletions. The results are pretty clear for the two QBs.

The Cooper Rush-led offense was much better at getting first downs. This is not because Rush throws downfield more than Moore does. Moore throws the deep ball just as much - and Moore's 46- and 32-yard completions to Brice Butler and Terrance Williams in the HoF game are timely reminders of that - it's just that for various reasons, Moore has been less accurate than Rush over the last two games.

Over the first nine pass attempts, Moore threw five incompletions. And it wouldn't get much better, as he went 6-for-12 on his remaining throws against the Colts.

We could spend all day wondering whether the QB should have thrown the ball to another target, but that discussion is severely limited by our lack of knowledge about the play called.

In the end though, what we know after three preseason games is that Moore has struggled with his completion rate (54.5%), while Rush has found a way to connect with his down-roster receivers (68.4%).

Perhaps it's time to see how well Rush can do with the second-team offense.