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3 & Out

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3 & Out: Feeding Zeke; Status Quo At Backup QB?


FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics on the Dallas Cowboys' offense, which must adjust and improve in a hurry without quarterback Dak Prescott for roughly the next month (perhaps a little longer, perhaps a little shorter):

  • QB Backup Plan
  • Run Game Remedy?
  • No "Rhythm & Flow"

I Know…

many fans' inclination is to go find an experienced, veteran quarterback to replace Prescott for a few weeks, but here's why Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones called that scenario "unlikely."

Jones told 105.3 The Fan that Prescott won't go on short-term injured reserve, which means there's hope -- based on the prognosis after Monday's thumb surgery -- that he can be back sometime in the next four weeks. If there's even a remote chance Prescott won't miss four straight games, then you don't shelve him for that required IR stretch.

This might be optimistic, but just for argument's sake, let's say it's only a three- or four-game absence. What are the odds that a new veteran quarterback -- even a proven guy with a large number of career starts -- will be comfortable enough with the scheme and receivers to make a discernibly better impact during that stretch?

You might say, it can't hurt to try. That's fair.

But Rush, the expected starter in Week 2 against the Bengals, has been in some form of this offense since 2017. In a spot start at Minnesota last year, he showed he can beat a good opponent, albeit with a more experienced group around him. (Tyron Smith started at left tackle in that game, and although Michael Gallup was inactive, former Cowboys receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson combined for 206 yards and two touchdowns.)

The Cowboys' thinking, according to Jones, is "it's unlikely that you'd have a veteran quarterback that could get back in here and could be ready to play as well as those guys (Rush or fellow backup Will Grier) can play, even if you thought you might have a talent advantage."

There's also a bit of a precedent here. In 2015, when Tony Romo fractured his collarbone in Week 2, the Cowboys immediately traded for Matt Cassel, who at that time had over 70 career starts. But the team didn't turn to Cassel until Week 7, after an extra week to prepare (and after the team went 0-3 with Brandon Weeden under center).

If the Cowboys planned to sign a more experienced backup quarterback, it should have happened in March or April. They didn't go that route. They have faith in Rush, and they like Grier's talent as a former third-round draft pick, too.

As always, when the No. 2 QB plays, the rest of the team must raise their game around him.

I Think…

if chunk plays in the passing game are hard to come by without Prescott, a consistent run game is critical.

In Sunday night's 19-3 loss, the Cowboys showed they could win the line of scrimmage and gain positive rushing yardage against a good Bucs defensive front. Rookie left tackle Tyler Smith did a nice job getting to the second level. Ezekiel Elliott ran hard and averaged 5.2 yards on only 10 carries. Collectively, the Cowboys had the same number of rushing attempts (18) as last year's Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay.

A good run game is a backup quarterback's best friend. Particularly if the offense isn't getting vertical.

The Cowboys had only one pass play over 20 yards against Tampa Bay: a 22-yard completion from Prescott to CeeDee Lamb. Chunk plays aren't easy, especially without Gallup in the opener.

And especially if the opposing DBs and linebackers force things underneath. That's how teams adjusted to the Cowboys' top-ranked offense last year down the stretch.

In 2021, the Cowboys went 5-2 in games with three or fewer explosive pass plays. In the two losses to the Chiefs and Cardinals, they averaged 16.5 carries and 63.5 rushing yards. In the five wins over the Chargers, Eagles, Panthers, Commanders and Giants, they averaged 34.2 carries and 170 rushing yards.

Maybe the solution is to pound the rock -- though it'll be interesting to see if teams will commit extra defenders to the box as an adjustment to Prescott's absence.

I Have No Idea…

how the offense gets on track if the penalties continue, though.

The Cowboys got flagged 10 times for 73 yards in Week 1. Eight were on offense. Four were pre-snap false starts, a league-high for Week 1. Right tackle Terence Steele, who had three false starts, said after the game he's got to clean those up.

If you're looking for one reason the Cowboys got away from the run last Sunday, and a big reason they only converted 3 of 15 third down tries, the penalties certainly didn't help.

On their second drive of the game, a false start by Steele cut into a 7-yard run by Elliott. The Cowboys ended up in third-and-8 and punted.

Two drives later, Lamb's offensive pass interference penalty created first-and-20. Two plays later, on third-and-10, Prescott threw an interception.

Late in the third quarter, a 6-yard run by Tony Pollard was sandwiched by a false start and holding call on Steele. The Cowboys eventually punted.

"You'd get a few plays and something would happen," offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. "That's the biggest challenge for us. We've just got to find our rhythm, find our flow, play a normal flow, normal down and distance. Now you're running the ball more and you're more in the (play)action game, you're converting third-and-manageables. We just kept having those obstacles thrown in our way."

In other words, there's no point in making things tougher on Rush than they have to be.

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