Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Ainsworth/AP/Shutterstock (13404712b) Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush (10) prepares to throw the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals during an NFL Football game in Arlington, Texas Cowboys Football, Arlington, United States – 18 Sep 2022
Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush has a flare for the dramatic and late-game heroics.
Just look at the only two starts of his NFL career.
Making just the second start of his 5-year career, Rush led the Cowboys to a late victory over the Bengals in Week 2 of the current season.
“Winning NFL games is a lot of fun,” Rush said.
After Cincinnati tied the score at 17 late in the fourth quarter on Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys and Rush got the ball with just 57 seconds left in regulation to make something happen.
“I knew we just had to get a few first downs,” Rush said. “That first first down that we always talk about in the two-minute (drill) is important. CeeDee (Lamb) making a good play on the first one and then Noah (Brown)’s tip catch, we were able to get in range.”
The Cowboys backup QB started the drive with an 8-yard strike to CeeDee Lamb. He followed that up with a 14-yard toss to Noah Brown and then a 10-yard pass to Lamb before Tony Pollard put the Cowboys in the perfect spot at the Bengals’ 32. Kicker Brett Maher knocked through the 50-yard field goal, and the Cowboys had win No. 1 of the season.
“That was a big one for us,” Rush said after the game. “You don’t want to fall down 0-2; need that first win. The defense obviously kept us in it tonight, and then Brett at the end doing his job. … It was pretty incredible.”
But this isn’t the first time Rush has led the Cowboys to a late victory.
No, in his only other start, the Central Michigan graduate led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory over Minnesota during Week 8 of last season.
Rush led the Cowboys on a 75-yard drive that took two minutes and ended with an Amari Cooper 5-yard touchdown catch with just 51 seconds to play in the game.
He had less time on Sunday afternoon but only needed a field goal to go to 2-0 as a starter.
“Nobody blinked an eye. We all have supreme confidence in Cooper Rush,” said wide receiver Noah Brown, who caught the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the game. “When he was called to play, we just focused on executing.”
Rush will make his second start of the season for injured quarterback Dak Prescott next Monday night in New York against the NFC East rival Giants.
“We are here,” said linebacker Micah Parsons after Sunday’s win. “We believe in Cooper Rush.”
Parsons raising the bar on sacks
Micah Parsons is doing things nobody has been able to do in at least, the last 40 years.
The second-year linebacker out of Penn State collected two more sacks on Sunday afternoon in the Cowboys’ win over Cincinnati. Add that to the two he picked up in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, and Parsons now has 17 sacks in the first 18 games of his career.
“He is the definition of an elite player,” said Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy about Parsons. “Elite players make everybody around them better, both on and off the field.”
“I’m just executing my game plan,” Parsons added after the victory on Sunday. “Knowing when to take my shots; not to take my shots—just understanding when to go high, when to go low. When to run a game. I just put a lot of work into this season.”
His 17 tops the list of any defensive player that has suited up since the NFL started keeping sacks as a statistic in 1982.
“He has made some really remarkable plays, just with his speed and quickness to go,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “I love that he can finish. A lot of guys have speed to go to one spot, but he knows how to finish. That is a really important quality of any playmaker.”
Parsons leads the list, with Aldon Smith second at 16.5 sacks and Clay Matthews, Jevon Kearse, and Joey Bosa all third with 16.
“Micah wreaks havoc,” McCarthy said. “He is definitely a focal point for every one of our opponents. You could see that last year. We played him exclusively at the defensive end position (Sunday). Obviously, he had a huge game.”
O-line efficient in victory
Despite injuries to a pair of starters and new players at both tackle spots, the Cowboys’ offensive line held up well against the Bengals on Sunday.
“They had touch matchups yesterday, too,” McCarthy said. “They had some plays that they can definitely learn from. … They had a handful of plays that they will definitely be better from.”
Cowboys’ rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith made his second start at left tackle for the injured Tyron Smith and held his own all night. The rookie was not flagged in the Cowboys’ 58 offensive snaps while also keeping his man off quarterback Cooper Rush during all passing situations.
Smith, along with left guard Matt Farniok who was making the first start of his career, opened running lanes early as the Cowboys were able to stay balanced on offense in the first half.
The running game amassed 107 yards on the ground, with the o-line leading the way to a 4.0 yards per carry average.
“They are just two young men that will line up and keep playing, and that is all you can ask for,” McCarthy said. “Tyler is an alpha personality, and he really enjoys playing. He definitely improved from week one to week two.”
“You just want them to be confident and free of mind, and they both did that and were very competitive, and that is what they need to be. They are trying to play with the physical traits and the consistency that is needed. So, I thought they both took a step forward.”
With just two veterans across the front in center Tyler Biadasz and right guard Zack Martin, the line gave up just one sack on the night.
Defense rising to top of NFL
In 2020, the year before Dan Quinn took over as defensive coordinator, the Cowboys ranked 23rd in overall defense, giving up over 386 yards and almost 30 points per game.
Quinn takes over in 2021, and the defense improves to 19th overall, giving up just over 351 yards and 21 points per game.
Two games into 2022, Quinn’s unit is up to sixth in the league at 300 yards and 18 points per game, behind only San Francisco, Buffalo, New England, Denver, and Tampa Bay.
“This is all a team game here,” said linebacker Micah Parsons. “One lion can’t do it by himself. You need a pride. … The fact that I have ten other guys out there that I feel like I can rely on that is what makes this boat go around.”
During a 1-1 start, the Cowboys have faced two of the more prolific offenses in the NFL in Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
The Cowboys held the Buccaneers, last season’s fifth-best offense, to 347 yards and 19 points in a loss. They held the Bengals, last season’s eighth-best offense, to 254 yards and 17 points in a win.
Convincing evidence of what the Cowboys have developed on this side of the ball.
“This is a deep crew,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “Early that can be tough for some of the guys that aren’t getting as much play time as they would like. At the end of it, in the locker room, it is sharing that moment with everybody and certainly seeing those guys all do it together. It speaks to the depth of the group and the unselfish nature that it takes.”
Gallup in, Schultz out for Giants?
The Cowboys could be getting back a key offensive piece in wide receiver Michael Gallup while possibly losing another in tight end Dalton Schultz.
While decisions on both won’t be made until closer to kick-off on Monday night, Schultz is listed as questionable with an injured knee.
“Dalton, they feel better about the scan, but frankly, we will just see how he is,” head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “We are going to give him every chance to try to go this week. But until we get to the end of the week, we’re not going to know.”
For Gallup, it will depend on the workload this week in practice. If he gets the green light, the wide receiver will make his season debut on Monday night in New Jersey against the New York Giants.
“The plan for Michael Gallup is to get a full week’s work, and he hasn’t had that yet,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully, when we get to the end of (this week), we can make a decision. … I really want to see Michael go through a second padded practice. We will try to give him a full slate this week and see how it goes.”
Safety Jayron Kearse (knee) and guard Connor McGovern (ankle) are both listed as questionable for the Giants’ game and will be evaluated at the end of the week.
As for quarterback Dak Prescott (thumb), he is out for Monday’s game, with a chance to return in Week 4 against Washington.
But McCarthy is not ready to put a date on Prescott’s return.
“When you are dealing with medical situations, and there is surgery and stitches, that is the hurdle you always want to get over before you get into timelines,” McCarthy said. “That is my approach. I am looking forward to when he does get the stitches out. Hey, he is doing everything you think he would do. … It looks pretty good but let’s get the stitches out first.”