The battle between Cooper Rush and Mike White for the Dallas Cowboys' backup quarterback job in 2019 has been going on all offseason, from meetings to OTAs and now into training camp. But as past years have shown us, nothing moves the needle like preseason games. How will tomorrow's opener against the 49ers, and the rest of the preseason, impact the backup QB competition?
This may simply comes down to which version of Cooper Rush shows up this preseason. Will it be the 2017 version, when an undrafted rookie put on a show that rivaled Dak Prescott's dazzling play a year earlier? Or will Rush have another disappointing run like last August, killing the hype and leaving many wondering if Dallas should sign a veteran backup?
If Cooper falters, can Mike White step up and take over the job? You'd like to think that a 5th-round pick, now in his second year, can at least challenge for the backup role. But we simply haven't seen enough of White to really know what he brings to the table.
What will be interesting to note in preseason games is not just how these guys play but also what opportunities the team gives them.
Any playing time is valuable, but so is getting to play with the right guys around you. Having guys like Joe Looney and Cam Fleming blocking in front of you is a better chance to succeed than if it's Adam Redmond and Mitch Hyatt. Throwing passes to Blake Jarwin is far better than Codey McElroy.
Back in May, new Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna said that there would be a "clean slate" for evaluating Rush and White as far as the backup role. Preseason play will be a major factor; seeing how these players execute when the pressure increases.
Even though Cooper has that one extra year of experience, it's somewhat mitigated by the changes on offense. Kellen Moore has replaced Scott Linehan as Offensive Coordinator, and Kitna was added to fill the vacated QB Coach job. Any changes to the offense, plus Kitna's added voice and preferences to the position, are new wrinkles for both Rush and White to work through.
Dallas has reason to root for Mike White in this competition. He has three years left on a cheap rookie deal, whereas Cooper Rush becomes a restricted free agent in 2020. Even the lowest projected RFA tender of $2.1 million would be roughly triple what White is projected to cost next year.
Of course, if Rush is clearly the better player then he's going to keep the job. It's not enough money to override superior skill and NFL readiness, but it certainly would be a tiebreaker if needed.
The Cowboys won't base their decision solely on these games. There are extenuating factors to performance, and all that these guys are doing in Oxnard and in other practices will be significant as well.
But these preseason games will get the engine going on the hype train. Hopefully the noise is for either Cooper Rush or Mike White's strong play, and not the clamoring for some other quarterback to replace them.
Cowboys Offense In-Line For Another Big Day Vs. Lions
There's no doubt the 2019 Cowboys have been disappointing through the first half of the season. But one area which has actually surpassed preseason expectations has been their offense, specifically their passing attack.
Despite the loss Sunday night, Dallas' offense still ranks first in DVOA- ahead of high powered attacks like the ones in Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle. Things have fallen into place for Dallas' offense nearly perfectly, with Dak Prescott positioning himself among the elite passers in the league, and La'el Collins having a breakout season at right tackle.
This week's matchup is yet another favorable one for this Cowboys offense, as the Detroit Lions come in reeling on the defensive side of the ball. Detroit ranks 25th overall in terms of defensive DVOA, and have been equally below average against both the run and pass (23rd and 20th in DVOA respectively).
Roster talent wise, there isn't a ton to get excited about on the Lions defense. Where last week's opponent had potential game breakers on each level of their defense, Detroit's talent is much more modest.
Still, free agent acquisition Trey Flowers has proven to be a solid defensive end and Damon "Snacks" Harrison has long been an elite run stuffer on the interior. In the back end, Darius Slay is a legit number one cornerback, but even he isn't enough to bolster this unit on his own.
In theory, the Cowboys should be able to get whatever they want offensively against the Lions this week, making it imperative they remain aggressive through the air. Jason Garrett coached teams love to try to "impose their will" with their offensive line and run game, but this is yet another week where the Cowboys' biggest advantage is likely driven by Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.
If all works according to plan the Cowboys will be able to utilize Prescott to win this game, and then lean on Ezekiel Elliott to kill clock late. The exact formula we had hoped for heading into the season months ago.
Of course, this would require something the Cowboys haven't really done whatsoever this season: start fast offensively.
But if you look at the remaining schedule, it's really now or never for this version of the Dallas Cowboys.
3 Things the Dallas Cowboys Need to do Against the Detroit Lions
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off yet another disappointing loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. Their season and playoff hopes could be hanging in the balance now, which makes just about every game from here on out all that more important. They need to start playing as if their backs are against the wall, because that very well could be the case.
Luckily the Dallas Cowboys should be able to take care of business this week when they hit the road to take on the Detroit Lions. This is one of the more winnable games left on the Cowboys schedule this year and they should use it as a bit of a refresher game of sorts in order to get things back on track. The objective of course remains the same… Winning. But, this is also an opportunity to clean a few things up.
Let's take a look at a few things I think the Dallas Cowboys need to do against the Detroit Lions in this Week 11 matchup.
Hit the Ground Running
No more slow starts! The Dallas Cowboys have to hit the ground running against the Detroit Lions instead of digging themselves into an early hole like they've done quite a bit this season. I honestly don't care if it's on the arm of Quarterback Dak Prescott or on the legs of Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, the offense has to figure out some way to be the aggressor in order to put points on the board early.
The Dallas Cowboys fell behind early in nearly every single one of their losses this season. I don't think a single team has really outplayed them yet this year, but when they have to scratch and claw their way back to get out of the hole they've dug themselves into it makes it exceedingly more difficult to win. It's time to change that narrative this week against the Detroit Lions so that hopefully it carries over for the rest of the year.
Execute! Execute! Execute!
The second thing the Dallas Cowboys need to do this week against the Detroit Lions is to clean up their execution, especially in the defensive side of the ball. Offensively things are going pretty well for the Cowboys, but the same can't be said about their defense. Despite all the talent they've added this season they are still struggling to put everything together and play up to expectations. Hopefully this Week 11 matchup helps them right the ship.
This is a game the Dallas Cowboys should be able to focus on their execution. That means maintaining their gap integrity in the running game, staying assignment sound in the passing game, and most importantly finish the tackle. Tackling was especially poor last week against the Vikings which is why Dalvin Cook ran wild. This has to be a group effort here. Yes, individuals need to improve, but for the overall defense to play up to expectations they have to execute as a unit.
Establish the Running Game
Dak Prescott has been playing phenomenal these past few games and has proven he's more than capable of carrying the offense on his back, but the Dallas Cowboys still need to establish the running game. Just about everything Prescott does in the passing game is built off of play action. If the running game isn't producing that hurts the overall offensive output. Plus, the best way to control the game is by running the ball.
I think Ezekiel Elliott should have a pretty big game against the Detroit Lions this week. After being bottled up by the Vikings last week that should be news to the Cowboys ears. This offense feeds off of Zeke and it needs him to find his groove now that we're getting into the do or die part of the NFL season. No. 21 isn't the only RB who needs to find his groove though. Tony Pollard needs to start being more involved and what better game to get him going than against Detroit.
What do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to do against the Detroit Lions?
Lion Down: QB Matthew Stafford Ruled Out for Cowboys Game
The Detroit Lions will be without starting Quarterback Matthew Stafford this Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys. He has been officially ruled out due to fractures in his back; the second-straight game that Stafford will miss with the injury.
Fourth-year backup QB Jeff Driskel will get the start as he did last week against the Chicago Bears. The Lions lost that game 20-13, and Driskel went 1-4 as a starter last season when playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Stafford's status was confirmed this morning by Lions' Head Coach Matt Patricia.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford (back) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Cowboys
Losing Stafford could leave Detroit completely crippled on offense. While they have one of the league's top passing offenses so far in 2019, that was all Matt's work at QB. Now they are missing both their starting QB and their top running back, Kerryon Johnson, who went on injured reserve in Week 7.
That said, Detroit did put up 357 total offensive yards last week against the Bears with Driskel starting. Given the quality of Chicago's defense and that the Lions were playing on the road, that's a strong number.
It will be interesting to see how Dallas strategizes on defense after last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys were completely run over by Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, so will increased focus on run defense creates opportunities for Driskel and the Lions' receivers?
However it shakes out, Matthew Stafford's absence definitely helps the Cowboys. He is still one of the top quarterbacks in football and had a top-five passer rating before the injury.
We never root for injuries but such is life in the NFL. Sometimes you get the benefit, sometimes you're on the losing end.
Hopefully, this turn of fate helps Dallas get a much-needed victory.
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