FRISCO, Texas – I have run out of superlatives.
Every time you think this Cowboys season has dipped into truly uncharted territory, they find a way to outdo themselves. We really should have seen this coming with the way we were all mentally preparing for Andy Dalton to return to the lineup after the Philadelphia game. We absolutely should have known it wouldn't be so easy.
So now we're at the halfway point of an insane season, and we're holding a quarterback competition between two guys who have combined to throw nine passes in a regular season NFL game.
This is where we are, and there's no going back. The only way through this bizarre season is to plow ahead and find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. What insane wrinkle awaits us in Week 10? Who can say?
Before we can figure that out, we've got a whale of a problem to figure out: getting through a game against arguably the NFL's best team. Fortunately, I've got some thoughts:
- With all due respect to Cooper Rush and Garrett Gilbert, I am unconvinced the Cowboys have a legitimate shot to win this game with either quarterback. Piecing together a game plan against Philadelphia is one thing, but Pittsburgh is a different category. This is one of the four or five best teams in the NFL right now.
So this is my pitch to the Cowboys' coaching staff: it's time to double down on last weekend's gameplan. It's time to really lean in to the idea of the Wildcat.
Maybe we can call it the WildBoy.
- It's obviously not an ideal circumstance. I'm not saying it's going to look pretty. But for a team that's down to its fourth option at quarterback, with a compromised offensive line, I'm just not convinced you can run a normal NFL offense against T.J. Watt and Co.
Fortunately, the Cowboys employ a pretty nifty pair of running backs – both of whom have some useful experience on their resumes. Ezekiel Elliott ran the read-option to perfection during his college career at Ohio State, and he has obviously done it plenty in the NFL. Tony Pollard actually has some history playing Wildcat quarterback, as it's something Memphis asked him to do on occasion during his college career.
Mix in some jet motion with your wide receivers, and all of a sudden you've got a pretty fun triple-option of sorts, which should help you manufacture some rushing yards.
We already saw this work fairly well against the Eagles. Now, it's time to kick things up a notch and truly commit to the bit.
- Of course, even I know it's not realistic to think you could do this on every snap. I was actually a bit surprised to learn that, even in that famous Wildcat game between the Dolphins and Patriots back in 2008, Chad Pennington actually attempted 20 passes and finished with 226 yards.
Other teams have committed to it, though. Way back in 2006, Carolina ran the rock 52 times for 183 yards with DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster primarily running the ball out of the shotgun. Backup quarterback Chris Weinke attempted just seven passes on the day, and Carolina won the game, 10-3.
So there is precedent for this. As bizarre as it might be to see, necessity does occasionally force teams to think outside the box.
It's not fun, but this is where the Cowboys are. Garrett Gilbert has been on this team for two weeks, and Cooper Rush is just coming back from a six-month hiatus. Again, I'm not trying to knock them. But I quite simply don't believe asking them to drop back 20+ times against the most fearsome pass rush in the NFL is going to lead to many positive results.
- There's an uncomfortable truth that crops up around this conversation, and I think it's why the Cowboys won't do it:
If you're going to center a game plan around running the Wildcat with Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliott, you have to embrace the idea that you don't have a very good chance of winning. That obviously runs contrary to the DNA of every, single football coach I've ever met.
Case in point, this was Mike McCarthy's response when asked about the staggering amount of adversity his team has faced this season:
"You have to keep forging forward because there is always a path to victory," he said. "And that's our focus. I understand what our record is. We had some areas of improvement in our last game, we need to build off of that. There are things we need to do better, we need to accomplish that, but we got to do whatever we need to do to win this game."
I understand and respect that perspective, I really do. Anything can happen on any given Sunday in the NFL, and you've got to believe you can win.
I still think there's a sense of freedom you can attain if you acknowledge the fact that you have nothing to lose. This is a 2-6 team, ravaged by injury, going up against the league's lone remaining unbeaten. The only right way to play this is fast and loose.
So Wildcat it up. Dust off another half dozen reverses and trick plays. Try not to ask too much of two inexperienced quarterbacks who have been on the roster for less than a month. Not only will it be more fun, it might actually improve your chances of winning.