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Cowboys’ Cooper Rush is the NFL’s best backup quarterback

It’s just the facts.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

While it was a bit overlooked because of all the other big problems that the Dallas Cowboys failed to address adequately in the offseason, the backup quarterback position was certainly one that left many of us frustrated. Like with so many other places on the roster, they adamantly refused to look outside the organization to find an experienced backup for Dak Prescott. Instead they seemed content to let Cooper Rush and Will Grier fight it out for the QB2 and QB3 roles. With Rush coming out on top, they went into the season with him as the guy who would have to fill in for Dak Prescott if needed. We sincerely hoped we wouldn’t see it happen, but, of course, it did in the very first game. In the immediate aftermath, it was not unreasonable to assume that the season, if not outright over, was going to be a difficult struggle, especially with all three of their NFC East rivals winning their first game.

If you are feeling foolish, you aren’t alone. Most of us felt this was going to go badly. Instead, Rush has won both his starts. With his lone appearance in relief of Prescott last season, he now has the quirky record of having never been the starting quarterback in a loss in six years in the NFL. He is, just by virtue of his record, the best backup quarterback in the league.

But it is more than just that 3-0 career record. The true expectation for a backup QB is to get his team to a few wins while the starter is out for a comparatively brief stretch of games. Going .500 over however long he is called on is seen as almost all you can realistically expect. With Prescott all but promising he is going to be back very shortly, Rush has nearly accomplished that already. Now he will lead the Cowboys against a Washington Commanders team that was rather exposed in their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles - much like Dallas laid bare the flaws of the New York Giants on Monday night.

That game also gave tantalizing hints that Rush may be at worst a potential long term solution for the backup job with the Cowboys. In his first start of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, Rush started off very well, leading the team to touchdowns on their first two possessions. But things went very cold for the offense and he had little success moving the team until the final, game-winning field goal drive. Things didn’t start so well against New York, as both teams just were able to manage a couple of field goals apiece until the 5:31 mark of the third quarter. At that point Saquon Barkley broke loose on his one big run of the night, going 36 yards to put them up by seven. To keep from dropping the game, the Cowboys had to find some consistent offense.

That is just what they did, and it was primarily via Rush’s passing. While Tony Pollard went over 100 yards, it was largely due to a 46-yard run. Ezekiel Elliott had a nice 27-yard run and some crucial short-yardage gains, including a one-yard touchdown run, and would get 73 yards himself. But their big runs both happened in the first half. By contrast, Rush just got better as the game went on. He only completed 8 of 14 passes for 81 yards in the first half, but would go 13 for 17 after halftime for 134 yards and a touchdown. Crucially, he also did not throw an interception or get sacked. His numbers would have been much better had CeeDee Lamb not flat out dropped a deep ball in the first half that would at worst have set the Cowboys up in the red zone.

More importantly, he led three consecutive scoring drives, taking Dallas from a 13-6 deficit to a 23-13 lead. While the Giants would cut into the lead with a field goal in the fourth quarter, it was big enough to hold - especially with Trevon Diggs making a difficult interception in the final two minutes to seal things.

That kind of offensive consistency is why Rush may just be the backup quarterback the Cowboys need. It also is likely to drive his price up. He is playing on a vet minimum deal, but it is very likely that there is going to be some demand for him when he enters free agency next year. It seems unlikely that he would be in demand to compete for a starting job, but with the frequency of quarterback injuries in the league, he is worth more than the $1.035 million Dallas is paying him. If management (meaning primarily Stephen Jones) is wise, they will try to work out a deal to lock him up on an extension that pays him several times that annually. Otherwise, someone else could lure him away.

Rush would seem amenable to that. He harbors no illusions about challenging Prescott for the starting job. He also has clearly demonstrated that he is able to be fully prepared to step in when needed and keep the team viable. That is a rare combination in the league where most QBs have a lot of ego and many backups believe they should be the starter, at least until reality crashes in on them. Rush has literally had nothing but success. Yet he takes Jerry Jones’ talk of a QB controversy no more seriously than it deserves. Which is to say not in the slightest.

That, as much as the wins he has led the team in, makes him an ideal backup QB. Those don’t come along every day. It is also a great way to earn tens of millions of dollars over a long career without the punishment that starters endure. If Rush is content, he could have that kind of an arc without having to move from city to city the way most career backups experience.

Despite all these other considerations, the way he has kept winning is still the most important factor. He has an excellent chance to notch another success against the Commanders on Sunday. Part of the reason Rush has seen the wins is that the Cowboys have a good defense, headlined by a fierce pass rush that should make Carson Wentz miserable with his penchant for holding onto the ball far too long. That, plus an offensive line that indeed may be much better with Jason Peters playing at left guard, is a great situation for Rush’s continued success. It is not only his own not inconsiderable traits. It is the entire package in Dallas that makes him the best backup quarterback in the NFL.

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