Sunday was probably the worst of the three offensive outputs under Cooper Rush, but it was enough. Dallas’ play-action once again was a key to some of Cooper Rush’s success. With Michael Gallup looking strong in his return, how much will Dallas’ passing attack open up?
It was a generally inefficient and frustrating day for the Dallas offense. The Cowboys couldn’t muster anything on the ground and struggled on third down. But they were able to create some timely offense and avoid the backbreaking mistakes, which is the name of the game when trying to win with a backup quarterback.
While Dallas has won three straight with him at quarterback, there’s been some nonsensical buzz that Cooper Rush should remain the starter long-term. This is not to knock Rush, because he has been perfect for Dallas as a backup and has done just what the Cowboys needed in Dak Prescott’s absence, but he simply is not a superior quarterback to Prescott.
Bob Sturm of The Athletic offered an interesting statistic that sheds some light on Rush’s limitations and why the Cowboys have leaned on early-down passing and play-action:
Today, we talked Cooper Rush and the great usage of 1st down passing. Here is the evidence on how passing early gave him a chance and passing later in the sequence had results that were that of a QB2 or so. Interesting, right? pic.twitter.com/nq6niovuil
— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) October 4, 2022
Dallas has given Rush a chance with Kellen Moore’s playcalling and Rush has cashed in. Let’s look at Rush’s day.
Cooper Rush: 15/27, 223 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Dallas gained just 279 yards and converted just five of its 15 third downs. Rush was only sacked once and didn’t turn the ball over and I would contend those are the two largest priorities when playing with a backup signal-caller. He was charged with two turnover-worthy plays and received a grade of 56 from Pro Football Focus.
As mentioned above, the steady diet of play-action continued for Rush as the Cowboys ran play-action on 31 percent of his dropbacks. Rush received an impressive 74.5 grade from PFF on play-action and a 45.7 grade on dropbacks without play-action.
It’s clear that he is more comfortable in play-action and it has allowed him to take several shots downfield, especially on early downs. In fact, Rush’s average depth of target has increased considerably in each of his three starts from 6.4 yards, to 9.2, to 10.8 yards on Sunday against Washington. This is a sign of a quarterback who is playing with confidence and has a playcaller that trusts him.
Rush will be in line for another test Sunday going against a Rams defense that has plenty of playmakers across the board. Sunday was a subpar performance from the offense and they will need to be better to upset the Rams. The Cowboys have been able to win with Rush at quarterback due to outstanding defense, solid play from Rush, a strong rushing attack, and gaining early leads. Doing those things on the road against the Rams will be much harder.
The rushing attack was especially inefficient on Sunday and it made life much harder. It was a difficult day for the Dallas offensive line against the run. The Cowboys racked up an abysmal 62 yards on 29 carries for 2.1 yards per rush. I’ll get into the workload of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard soon.
There was just no room to run all day long. Now, going against Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen in the middle of that defense will certainly make life difficult, and it did just that on Sunday.
The right side of the offensive line was once again rock solid. Zack Martin and Terence Steele have been terrific for the Cowboys. Steele received a 72.1 run blocking grade and Martin received a 63 grade against the run. Both were terrific in pass protection as well, as they allowed just one pressure each.
Things were a little hairier from center over to left tackle. Tyler Biadasz had issues blocking the run as he received a poor run blocking grade of 43.4. He was once again solid in pass protection and didn’t allow a pressure, but given his lack of size, Biadasz will generally struggle with monsters in the middle like Allen and Payne.
Connor McGovern struggled mightily at left guard, and things are getting interesting concerning that left guard spot. McGovern received a 48.9 run blocking grade and a 30.5 pass blocking grade as he allowed three pressures (one of which was a sack). He gets a bit of slack considering it was a difficult matchup in his first game back from an ankle sprain, but he struggled Sunday.
Jason Peters was once again decent at left guard. Peters allowed just one pressure and received a much better grade of 57.6 in his snaps. McGovern played 40 of the 61 snaps at LG, and after his performance you have to wonder what the snap splits will be at LG against the Rams.
Tyler Smith did not grade favorably but I did not think he was as much of an issue as the PFF box score indicates. Smith gave up three pressures and received a 50.2 overall grade with a 44.1 grade against the run. I will continue to wonder if Dallas’ best lineup up front involves Peters at left tackle and Smith at guard, but I digress. Smith has been an overall positive at LT and it’s hard to imagine Dallas moving him.
The Zeke and Pollard Report
Last week I highlighted how happy I was with the split of the workload between Pollard and Elliott. I don’t quite feel that way about Sunday. Here’s their workloads Sunday:
- Ezekiel Elliott: 19 carries, 49 yards, 2.6 yards per carry, 2 receptions, 32 receiving yards
- Tony Pollard: 8 carries, 6 yards, 0.8 yards per carry, 1 reception, 2 yards
It was obviously a very tough day on the ground, as I said above. In order to succeed with a QB like Rush, Dallas needs its run game to be competent at the very last. This is not to say the struggles were Pollard’s or Elliott’s fault – the big boys up front had a hell of a day with Allen, Payne, and Montez Sweat.
I wasn’t thrilled with the split of Elliott/Pollard’s workload. It should be MUCH closer to 50/50 than it was Sunday.
Welcome back, Michael Gallup! Gallup recorded two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown, but his impact went far beyond those two catches. He drew multiple penalties that helped Dallas move the ball downfield. The threat of Gallup also returned. His vertical threat that he poses opens up so much more underneath and we got to see some of that as Elliott got loose on a checkdown an CeeDee Lamb made some plays underneath as well.
Gallup’s return has this receiving group looking far more competent than when we were hitting the panic button following the Tampa Bay game. Since Week 1, Lamb has stepped up in a massive way, Gallup has returned from injury, and Noah Brown is developing into a very nice complementary receiver. Brown recorded three catches for 61 yards including a massive 45 yard reception. This group is much more well-rounded now with Prescott’s return around the corner.
In fact, all three receivers had tremendously impactful moments. I already mentioned Brown’s 45-yard reception over the top. Gallup worked nicely on a scramble drill with Rush for his first touchdown since the injury and also drew a 38-yard defensive pass interference penalty. Lamb torched William Jackson on a terrific “dino” concept (fake post, fake corner, run post) for his touchdown.
Lamb is beginning to come into his own as an alpha receiver and it has been tremendous to see. He caught six of his seven targets for 97 yards and a touchdown. After Tampa Bay he has done nothing but produce for the Cowboys. That arrow should only continue to point up with Gallup and Prescott both returning.
It was a tough day for Dalton Schultz in his return from his one-game absence. Schultz didn’t catch any of his three targets and was also charged with a drop. It’s tough to say what his issue has been so far, but I would guess that once Prescott returns, we’ll get a much better version of Schultz. Prescott’s rapport with Schultz showed throughout 2021, and it possibly just isn’t there with Rush. Schultz’s usage Sunday with Rush still at QB will be something to monitor.
The Dallas offense has survived and at points thrived under Cooper Rush. With Dak Prescott’s return around the corner, the trajectory for this unit seems to be headed in the right direction.
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