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Andy Dalton has been just about everything the Dallas Cowboys could have asked him to be in 2020

Give credit to the Red Rifle.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have been rather cavalier with the backup quarterback position in recent memory. It has been one of their biggest flaws that has only been noticed when the position became vital to team success.

Prior to the arrival of Dak Prescott, the Cowboys entrusted players like Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and now offensive coordinator (soon to be Boise State head coach?) Kellen Moore to be the second-most important person on their football team. Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but that was never a smart way to operate and the front office seemingly learned their lesson throughout the 2015 season.

Of course, the Cowboys didn’t do a ton to address the backup quarterback position even in the immediate aftermath of that lost year. They doubled down on Kellen Moore (clearly they were right to want him in their building) and wound up hitting the lottery on their next draft pick at the position in Prescott.

The disposition in question changed over the offseason, like a lot of things did, when Mike McCarthy became the team’s head coach. As opposed to relying on an undrafted free agent quarterback (that route has technically very famously served the Cowboys well before to be fair) at a position where you are one moment away from chaos, the team chose to find someone who had been there and done that in veteran Andy Dalton.

We don’t know if the Cowboys will win the NFC East or not, but they are going to play all 16 of their games, over half of them with Dalton under center, mathematically alive and in contention. The Dalton decision is a big reason for that.

Andy Dalton has been just about everything the Dallas Cowboys could have asked him to be in 2020

While admiring what Dalton has done in this extremely unique season, Dak Prescott is unquestionably the best option for this team in 2021 and beyond. Hopefully the Cowboys work out a long-term deal with him in the offseason, but that is a conversation for a different day.

Right now, our focus is on the Red Rifle and what he has done to help keep the Cowboys afloat in 2020. Dalton finally surpassed Prescott to be the team’s leading passer on the season this past Sunday in the group’s dominating win over the Philadelphia Eagles, a performance that netted Dalton a nomination for FedEx Air Player of the Week by the way (vote for him right here!), and he is two steps of a Cowboys-winning-the-NFC-East sequence away from a $1M bonus.

Nobody is going to pretend like Andy Dalton has been a lights out quarterback this season, but he has steadied the ship and helped lead the team to four wins in their last six outings. When you consider all eight games that he has started for the team the losses are somewhat understandable, to be honest.

2020 Dallas Cowboys losses with Andy Dalton starting at quarterback:

  • Week 6, Arizona Cardinals: First game without Dak Prescott, the Cardinals were ascending
  • Week 7, at Washington FT: First game without Zack Martin, offensive line got run over, Dalton hurt
  • Week 12, Washington FT: A short week that was made impossibly difficult by the death of a staffer
  • Week 13, at Baltimore Ravens: The beginning of Baltimore’s return as an elite offense

Perspective also requires noting Dalton’s wins as a starter this season have come against the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles. Nobody will write any songs about those heroics, but wins are wins, and the fact that Dalton buckled down (among a defense finally settling in) is commendable to say the least.

Ultimately, as we sit here with only one more Dallas Cowboys game promised to us, this season Dalton’s ledger as the leader of America’s Team reads quite nicely:

Andy Dalton this season for the Cowboys:

  • 10 games played
  • 8 games started
  • 286 attempts
  • 187 completions
  • 65.4% completion
  • 1,926 passing yards
  • 14 passing touchdowns
  • 7 interceptions
  • 4-4 record

Is this not ideal backup quarterback play in the NFL? Expecting anything more than this is obviously nice in a perfect world, but going .500 as a backup in the NFL in the season that is 2020 seems like it is more than fair. Being more matter of fact, Dalton has done the bare minimum which is sort of a backup quarterback’s job. Expecting them to galvanize you like Kurt Warner did for the St. Louis Rams so long ago is impractical.

Andy Dalton is legitimately one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC East

Much of the reason that the Cowboys have an opportunity to win their division with only seven victories is due to the overall ineptitude amongst the four teams. It is only going to take seven wins to host a playoff game, but the Cowboys stand among those with an opportunity for it to be them with all of the hurdles they’ve faced. That could only have been made possible by Andy Dalton playing well enough.

Dalton is not the only backup quarterback to play in the NFC East this season as all four teams have trotted out multiple signal-callers this season, albeit for different reasons. Entering Week 17, Dalton is tied with Washington’s Alex Smith and New York’s Daniel Jones as far as the most victories in games started with four apiece. Considering that Smith has one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts on the other side of the ball and that Jones is much younger and more physically equipped says a lot about Andy Dalton. He is playing on a team with just about an entire reserve offensive line and what was at one point one of the worst defenses to ever live.

We will have to wait and see where Dalton is ultimately playing football in 2021, but as far as 2020 is concerned, he was the perfect man for the unbelievably difficult job that the Cowboys had available. He weathered the storm, incurring a concussion and a positive test for COVID-19 along the way, to the point that he might have a division title and respectable new contract over the course of the next few months to show for it.

Mike McCarthy deserves credit for demanding a better option behind Dak Prescott in Dalton as the worst case scenario unfolded not even six weeks into the season. Andy Dalton deserves credit for fighting through every obstacle, taking what’s been in front of him, and helping to get the Cowboys almost to the impossible.