The Cowboys’ backup quarterback competition took a turn on Saturday night. After taking first-team reps for the past month, Garrett Gilbert had a chance to cement his spot as the backup to Dak Prescott. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, he did the opposite.
Gilbert had by far his worst performance of the preseason, completing just three passes for a mere 30 yards. Gilbert’s PFF offensive grade of 38.0 was the worst of any quarterback in the game. The 30-year-old signal-caller also once again failed to get the Cowboys in the end zone, giving him seven preseason drives with no touchdowns on the board.
Garrett Gilbert-led drives this preseason for the Dallas Cowboys:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) August 22, 2021
- Field Goal (PIT)
- Missed Field Goal (PIT)
- Punt (ARI)
- Turnover on Downs (ARI)
- Field Goal (ARI)
- Gilbert Fumble (HOU)
- Punt (HOU)
As if things didn’t go poorly enough for Gilbert, Cooper Rush, his direct competition, had the best game by any Cowboys quarterback this preseason. Rush completed 10 of 12 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite Rush’s outstanding performance, when Mike McCarthy spoke after the game he made one thing fairly clear. The Cowboys still have not found their backup quarterback.
Cowboys have said repeatedly they are comfortable w/ Garrett Gilbert as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) August 22, 2021
That changed after this game. Asked if the backup is Gilbert or Cooper Rush or someone not on roster, Mike McCarthy responded:
“We have one more week & we’re going to need it.”
So, where do the Cowboys go from here? Do they hope that Gilbert’s poor performance was just a bump in the road that he can rebound from? Do they trust in Cooper Rush and believe his great outing showed he’s cable of being the backup? The answer to both of these questions might be no.
Sure, Rush looked great last night. The 27-year-old looked like a capable backup quarterback, but there’s a reason Rush has been in the league since 2017 and has not made a single start. Can the Cowboys really rely upon a guy who has taken 26 snaps in his NFL career to win a regular-season game?
Having game experience is a big part of being a quality backup QB. If Rush is inserted into a game in the second quarter of Week 5, how’s he going to react? Even Garrett Gilbert, the prohibitive favorite for the job just one week ago, has appeared in just seven games during his three-year career. Outside of Prescott, the Cowboys lack game experience in their quarterback room.
You don’t need your backup QB to be Superman. What you do need him to be is consistently good enough to at least give you a chance to chance to tread water and win a game or two if the starter is out. If Prescott was to miss an extended period of time like last season, chances are your season is sunk. However, if he were to miss only a game or two, a capable backup quarterback can give you a chance in those games.
Right now, can you really trust Gilbert or Rush to be that guy?
It’s time to look outside the organization for a backup. Dallas could benefit from targeting someone with starting experience in a trade, like Jaguars’ quarterback Gardner Minshew or Bears’ quarterback Nick Foles. They aren’t great, but both have much more experience as a starter than any of the backup options on the Cowboys’ roster.
If all goes according to plan, whoever the Cowboys No. 2 quarterback is this season won’t take a single snap the entire year. But as we’ve seen as recently as last season, things don’t always go that way. For the Cowboys to have a good insurance policy if their star is to go down, they might need to start looking on the outside rather than the inside.