Cowboys: Cooper Rush was fine, but this team needs Dak Prescott

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Based on the results of last season, we weren’t really sure if the Dallas Cowboys could survive the loss of Dak Prescott. In the past, the Cowboys offense has been night and day without their franchise signal caller.

With Dak Prescott under center, the Dallas Cowboys offense has averaged 6.5 yards per play – tops in the NFL. Without No. 4, they’ve averaged a paltry 4.7 yards, which ranks dead last in the league. So when news broke before kickoff that Dak would be inactive, it’s understandable Cowboys Nation felt more than just a little deflated.

Even with a stacked roster, replacing an MVP candidate at the most important position in football, is no small task. Especially when the man doing the replacing is an undrafted, untested, and generally uninspiring player like Cooper Rush

Cooper Rush was fine on Sunday but the Dallas Cowboys desperately need Dak Prescott back ASAP nonetheless.

By nearly all standards, Cooper Rush performed well above expectations on Sunday. The guy who won QB2 by default this year (Garrett Gilbert had the inside track and basically choked the job away) is severely lacking in arm talent, and as such, limited in the types of throws he can make.

But what he lacks in arm strength he makes up for in intelligence and poise. The Vikings were dedicated to stop the run, giving ample cushion to the Cowboys elite WR duo, thus gifting Cooper Rush a tremendous margin of error on most throws.

By the numbers it’s hard not to call Rush’s day a resounding success. Passing for 325 yards, the kid from Central Michigan put up a historic performance in front of the rowdy Minneapolis crowd. He made big time throws at pivotal times and deserves praise for stepping up at the biggest moment of his professional life.

With an EPA average of .023, the Dallas offense ranked 16th behind Rush. This is especially impressive given the running game’s struggles. Pollard and Elliott combined to finish 20th in rushing EPA/play and just 25th in success rate

Note: success rate indicates whether or not the play helped the team and EPA indicates how much a given play helped the team

So, even by advanced metrics Rush did pretty darn good. Frankly, I’m not sure Andy Dalton could have done much better. But Rush’s success also came with some consequences. It gave some of us (hopefully not the Dallas Cowboys brain trust) a false sense of confidence. A feeling that this team can win like this again – without Dak.

Despite absolutely abysmal play from the Vikings, Minnesota was very much in this until the end. In fact, it took some odds-defying plays to make this game become the feel-good story it is today.

On the Dallas Cowboys go-ahead drive, they were only looking at a 20.5% chance of winning. Rush threw it up to Coop and after the ball bounced off the chest of the defender, Coop came up with a beautiful, yet highly improbable play. Per PFF it improved the Cowboys chances of winning to 39.6% and provided one of the highest variance plays of the day. Had the defender not dropped the interception, the win probability would have been just 3.4% and we would likely be singing a much different tune today.

Later in the drive, a similarly highly improbable play happened. On 3rd-and-11, Cooper Rush conceded the drive and dumped it off to Zeke to presumably settle for a game tying TD. All Zeke did was break three tackles on his way to a 14-yard gain, snag a first down, and offer another tremendous swing in win probability.

9 out of 10 times these two plays end much differently. They represent 2.36 and 2.17 expected points added, and their importance (and improbability) cannot be understated.

If it sounds like I’m raining on Cooper Rush’s parade, I apologize. That is not my intention. Rush made some spectacular throws – specifically the TD passes to Cooper and to Cedrick Wilson.

But as Joseph Randle would say, he left a lot of meat on the bone too. CeeDee Lamb and Amari ran free most of the day. Sometimes Rush found them some times he didn’t. But if it hadn’t been for a couple odds-defying plays down the stretch, the result would be much different, and the complete body of work wouldn’t look quite so spectacular.

The margin of error is razor thin in the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys need their most important player playing as soon as possible. Hopefully that happens this Sunday.

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As long as Dak Prescott feels good and gets medically cleared, the Dallas Cowboys shouldn’t hesitate to use him because Cooper Rush isn’t going to defy odds such as these twice in a row.