One of the major takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys’ first 2019 preseason game was the play of their reserve quarterbacks. After struggling in these August games a year ago, Cooper Rush looked more like his 2017 self and created some distance from Mike White in the race for being the backup QB.
Stats alone don’t tell the story, but they do tell part of it. Rush completed 16 of 26 passes (61.5%) for 142 yards, while White had just 87 yards on 9-of-20 completions (45%). But even more important where White’s two fumbles, one of which was thankfully erased by a penalty.
Rush’s day could’ve been much bigger if not for a few drops by receivers, mainly Jon’Vea Johnson, and a slightly overthrown deep ball to Blake Jarwin. But despite those missed opportunities, you came away from this game feeling good about how Cooper might perform if surrounded by first-team talent.
Ball delivery was there; Rush was putting the ball in the sweet spot on most of this throws. He also managed the pocket well and got rid of the ball rather than taking sacks.
To be fair, Mike White didn’t get the same degree of pass protection. Going from Cam Fleming to Mitch Hyatt at left tackle seemed to spark more breakdowns, and White ended up having to play through a lot more pressure than Rush.
But much like a presidential race, White has the uphill to beat the incumbent. This is Cooper Rush’s job to lose and he only strengthened his grip on it last night.
Earlier in the offseason, new Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna said that there would be a “clean slate” between Rush and White for the backup job. But last night, Rush’s extra year of experience came through in his play.
Now it’s up to the Cowboys to decide how evenly they want to evaluate these two quarterbacks. Does White get to come in before Rush in the next game, allowing him to play with better blocking and receivers to see what he can offer?
The clean-slate approach would mean giving White his own chances with the second-team, but momentum tends to impact these decisions. Rush’s play last night, and the two years already invested in him, may prompt Dallas to keep him as the number-two QB next week and beyond.
It’s almost unfair; the disparity in surrounding talent perpetuates the perceptions. But that’s Mike White’s challenge to overcome, and Cooper Rush’s advantage to make the most of.
This was only the first round of the 2019 battle, and naturally there are other things going on away from preseason games that factor into the decision.
But on this night, Cooper Rush was the better quarterback. We’ll see how the next three games either reinforce or force us to reevaluate that perception.