Almost from the moment the Dallas Cowboys won the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, we have been hearing talk from casual fans and national media figures alike that if they kept winning with Cooper Rush as quarterback, they should keep him in the starting job over the injured Dak Prescott.
Those voices just became more insistent as the wins piled up. It was a bit of a quandary. The Cowboys needed to win games to keep pace with the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles and the surprising New York Giants in the suddenly formidable NFC East. Yet, no matter that the Dallas staff doesn’t care what the outsiders say, the discussion continued. No one wanted Rush to lose, but winning just kept things going in that area.
Against the Los Angeles Rams, we unexpectedly got the best of both worlds. The Cowboys clawed their way to another win, and Rush demonstrated unequivocally how he is a QB2, not a challenger to Prescott.
We know the defense has been carrying this team since Prescott went down. They absolutely did again. They scored a touchdown on their own, amassed five sacks of Matthew Stafford, had two forced fumbles, and for the second time in as many weeks picked off a pass that all but closed out the game. There was a nice assist from the special teams in the form of a blocked punt, but that was courtesy of pass rusher Dorance Armstrong, who also had the forced fumble that set up DeMarcus Lawrence’s touchdown return. The overall stats were impressive. They held the Rams to only 38 yards rushing, 0 for 2 in the red zone, and just a 35% conversion rate on third down. L.A. only had two big plays all game, the 75-yard catch and run by Cooper Kupp for a touchdown, and a 54-yard pass to Tutu Atwell that eventually led to a field goal. Those were the only scores of the game allowed by one of the stingiest defenses in the league.
Because of that performance stopping the Rams, all the team really needed from Rush was some competent game management and a few key completions. The twelve-point margin of victory papers over the fact that he nearly did not deliver in his worst outing of the season.
Rush would only attempt sixteen passes all game, completing just ten of them. He only found three receivers, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Noah Brown. There weren’t even any attempts to running backs. Those ten catches would just yield 102 yards. That is remarkably low for a winning team.
Since 2011 there have been 11 teams that won games passing for 102 or less yards.— Matt Owen (@ProfessorO_NFL) October 10, 2022
The Cowboys are now the 12th team.
Further, the offensive stats for the Cowboys were no more impressive. They just converted 33% of their third downs and likewise came up without a touchdown on their paltry two trips to the red zone.
It wasn’t just the defense that carried Rush in this game. It was his two running backs. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 164 yards. Pollard provided the flash and dash with his 57-yard touchdown run to provide the only significant offensive punch of the night. Elliott was the grind it out workhorse, with only 3.5 YPC on his way to 78 total, but he did have one run where he was a barely made tackle from breaking it, possibly all the way to the end zone.
All Rush had to do was get a few completions and protect the ball. He did that, although he took the “few” to a bit of an extreme. The inability to convert third downs forced the team to rely on Bryan Anger for six punts and three field goals from the thankfully reliable Brett Maher. Admittedly, the Rams have a pretty good defense themselves. As expected, Aaron Donald was a problem, getting two sacks, both against rookie LT Tyler Smith, and forced a fumble on one that Smith redeemed himself slightly by jumping on to retain possession. They only managed one other sack, however, And Rush didn’t have the dangerous throws he had last week, avoiding any picks while only having one throw that was a bit dangerous.
But he did so little to get his fifth win in a row as a starter, making it clear that he is not what you want for a starter. That is especially true when the guy ahead of him on the depth chart is Prescott, who has proven time and again that he can deliver when the team needs it. While the first game was a terrible outing for QB1, that was not a typical performance by Prescott. With him back, you have to assume that at least some of those drives would have gotten more, and resulted in better than 22 points total.
At the moment, it still looks uncertain that Prescott will be back for the NFC East showdown with the Eagles. They are hardly without hope if Rush is called on once again. That is how good the defense is. But if he is deemed ready to go, there is no question Prescott is needed. Now that they have beaten both of the participants from the last Super Bowl, they have to be considered a legitimate contender in the NFC. So does undefeated Philadelphia. Dallas has been good with Rush, but they have not exactly dominated anyone. They will be better with Prescott.