We’re days away from the Cowboys’ shock victory over the Bengals, and I’m no longer optimistic about this season’s success. The dysfunction at the highest levels of their management structure is more present than ever, with Jerry and Stephen Jones both inexplicably exerting public pressure on Dak Prescott to recover from his injury. Vegas still has Dallas as an underdog in its contest with the Giants on Monday night, and the offense has still engineered a total of two touchdowns in two games.
But for one afternoon, at least, the scouting department got a win and deserves a ton of credit for the players they signed.
I don’t care what kind of funk Cincinnati is in. The Cowboys beat the Bengals with better-than-expected performances from Cooper Rush, Tyler Smith and Noah Brown. Their circumstances are different, but they share a common thread. In each case, the general public, myself included, wondered, “What exactly do they see in this guy? »
Rush was widely considered one of the worst reserve quarterbacks in the league; the team has received massive criticism for seemingly doing nothing to try and level up there (including by me last week). Still, he’s now 2-0 as a starter, with a pair of game-winning drives under his belt. It remains very difficult for me to imagine Cooper Rush generating 20 points per outing over the next few weeks. But what if Rush as a backup quarterback isn’t a value play from the confusing and avaricious cap management wing of the front office, and instead is a product of scouting and coaching staff actually believing he’s the person for the job?
Every time Rush comes back, I expect negative play. Not a spectacularly negative play, but something that suggests the attack will leave the field in the next 90 seconds. And yet, in the two cases where he was called upon in the regular season, he did enough. Everyone involved in this operation deserves huge credit: Mike McCarthy, Kellen Moore, the scouts and, of course, Rush.
Most reviewers saw Tyler Smith as a substantial overdraft when Dallas selected him 24th overall in April, and even the club admitted he was going to be a development draft. He was forced to start at left tackle after Tyron Smith was injured, and there were major concerns about the 21-year-old’s ability to handle the speed of NFL rushers from the start. It might only be two games, but in those two games, Tyler Smith only gave up three pressures. That’s good for the 13th-lowest pressure rate allowed of any starting tackle, per Pro Football Focus. He’s been good enough that the Cowboys now have to at least consider playing veteran Jason Peters at guard and let Smith continue to grow at tackle.
And then there’s Noah Brown. Noah Brown! Dallas selected Brown in the seventh round in 2017, and somehow he still trailed. He’s definitely a plus-level run blocker, but that’s rarely enough for a wide receiver to hang around with the same team for five years. The fourth and fifth receivers on the NFL’s depth charts are in constant turmoil, with many teams looking for a quick option to return punts and maybe make a play or two on offense during the season.
Brown doesn’t return punts; he works on punt coverage. He was a highly recruited freshman out of high school, but injuries limited his ability to make a name for himself at Ohio State. Prior to Sunday, he had caught just 45 passes in 51 games. Still, the scouting department has always appreciated what he brings to the roster. Sunday, it paid off. All of Brown’s targets have produced runs or first downs. It doesn’t matter if Brown can’t replicate that performance this season. What matters is that if Dallas somehow ends up sneaking into the playoffs, we can reverse the team’s decision to sign him to another one-year contract like much of the reason.
I’m hesitant to draw big conclusions about how instructive Sunday’s offensive performance is once Prescott is back at the helm. Yes, you want Tony Pollard heavily involved, and in Week 2 the team got closer to that. The Cowboys were purely average in offensive efficiency against Cincinnati, producing the 16th most EPA/game, by rbsdm.com by Ben Baldwin. Micah Parsons is so good that maybe an average offense can do some weeks.
In general, though, a game plan in which a quarterback averages just 6.7 yards in average target depth (24th in the league in Week 2) just isn’t sustainable. Once Michael Gallup is fully fit and Prescott is able to play like the player we saw in his prime – not just when his boss says he’s ‘ready to go’ – the best version of the attack still sees Prescott pushing the ball downfield. seems play-action.
Prescott, or the club, may no longer be comfortable using him as a threat in the running game. But that shouldn’t be the case that they can’t threaten teams deeply. And at least for now, it looks like they have a left tackle (or guard) that can work at a usable level and allow him to do so. It looks like they have a capable third wide receiver who can fill the “possession receiver” role and possibly take over some of the slack if tight end Dalton Schultz runs out of time. And, until we see evidence to the contrary, it looks like they have a backup quarterback who can execute a modified game plan and keep things between the lines (and maybe even more).
It’s infuriating to try to understand the evaluation process of this team. The organizational structure is so convoluted that we never know exactly who to give credit or who to blame. But escaping an 0-2 start while relying heavily on Cooper Rush, Tyler Smith and Noah Brown is impressive. It might just be one game. But for now, this game is what we have to continue on. And for 60 minutes on Sunday, Cowboys coaches and staff saw their confidence vindicated. Do it again Monday night, and they might just need a little more to keep this thing afloat.
Jake Kemp covers the Cowboys and Mavericks for StrongSide. He is a lifelong Dallas sports fan who currently works for…