Cooper Rush Doesn’t Blink as Dallas Cowboys Stun the Cincinnati Bengals

Cooper Rush

Well, that was unexpected. The Cincinnati Bengals surely left Dallas thinking the same thing as they stare down the first 0-2 start by a Super Bowl team since 1999.

Week 2 was full of wild games and unexpected finishes, and the Dallas Cowboys certainly took part in that. The defending AFC champions were held under 20 points as the Cowboys turned around their disastrous start in a 20-17 win on Sunday afternoon.

Joe Burrow was held to 199 passing yards and a single touchdown pass late in the game. Cooper Rush handled the immense task of taking over for Dak Prescott with poise and confidence. He went 19 of 31 for 235 yards and a touchdown, leaning on a defense which showed up to play. Dallas’ defensive front completely wrecked the Cincinnati offensive line on the way to six sacks and numerous quarterback hits. Micah Parsons looked every bit the best defender in the NFL, leading a stifling performance by the Dallas defense. It was the exact type of win the team and fans alike needed going into this stretch without Prescott.

Steadiness of Cooper Rush Helps Lead Dallas Cowboys to Victory

A communal meltdown ensued over the past week in reaction to the horrific showing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fans and analysts only paused pointing fingers to collectively roll their eyes at the idea of Rush under center. Any mentions of the Dallas Cowboys leaving Sunday with a win at the hands of Cooper Rush were met with incredulous snorts. The lows of Week 1 left it difficult to locate any silver linings moving on to an opponent fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and their own irritating week one loss.

Yet, the mysteries and perplexities of this beautifully strange game show themselves weekly.

Cooper Rush

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys could learn a thing or two from Cooper Rush. His number two spot on the roster has been questioned for years now. Before starting his first career game last season (and winning), he had no experience in regular season action. His performances in the preseason have regularly been shaky, but rarely was he playing with starting-level talent. All the pushback aside, a major factor in two separate coaching staffs sticking with him could be his stoic nature on and off the field.

The usual media frenzy surrounding the Cowboys only intensified in the wake of Dak Prescott’s injury, but Rush never blinked. Over the years, his demeanor can be interpreted as somewhere between even-keeled and apathetic. He almost never breaks his default expression, whether he’s explaining a game-winning play or a disastrous miscue. This is the exact type of approach you want from the backup quarterback of your team. Especially when that team is the Dallas Cowboys.

Rush’s performance on Sunday was an embodiment of his steady demeanor. There was nothing overly spectacular about his play. It even bordered on worrisome as the offense sputtered after scoring 17 points in the first half. Rush never blinked. Outside of a few interceptable passes, his throws were accurate and gutsy when they needed to be. The highs and lows of his performance culminated in a game-winning drive where Rush connected on all three pass attempts of 8, 12, and 10 yards.

Even when they weren’t scoring, the offense let the dominating defense rest by only having one 3-and-out the entire game. It was the near-perfect symbiosis the Cowboys need as a team to win games for the time being. Luckily, this defense is proving to be the key to Dallas’ success.

Defense Shines Again

This Dallas Cowboys defense is for real. They have only allowed two touchdowns this season, both late in their respective games. The Bucs and Bengals—both playoff teams from last year—were held in check. Star quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Burrow have been sacked, hit, and thrown off their gameplan while facing this defense. Consensus was that the unit overperformed last season and was bound for regression, particularly in turnovers. It’s far too early to tell if the Cowboys will sniff the 34 turnovers they acquired last season, but they have something arguably more valuable: consistency.

This defense does not waver, and it does not falter. It’s almost to the point of clockwork that a player will come up big on third down when the team needs it, or a drive will be stalled right outside of the redzone. It happened much of last year, and it’s happened consistently over this young season. Sunday afternoon was another example of that.

Key Players

Trevon Diggs must have heard the criticism last week surrounding his tackling ability. Against Cincinnati, he was a constant physical presence and made several notable tackles. However, none was bigger than the solo tackle of Tyler Boyd late in the game on 3rd and 3. With the game tied and Burrow trying to will his team to a win, Diggs stoned Boyd at the line. This set up Rush’s game-winning drive by forcing the Bengals to punt deep from their own territory. Receivers like Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase are bound to get catches against any defense, but Diggs covered both over the afternoon with impressive results.

With Jayron Kearse out with an injury, questions arose about which player would take over his hybrid linebacker/safety role. Donovan Wilson stepped in nicely as a box safety on Sunday. He was all over the field, leading the team in tackles and making numerous key stops. Building off an interception last week, Wilson embraced his expanded role on Sunday staying on the field for 70 snaps (tied for highest). With there still being a while before Kearse returns, Wilson will continue to have opportunities in the coming weeks.

I mentioned last week that the pass rush outside of Parsons had to be more effective if Quinn’s scheme was to work as designed. On Sunday, everyone feasted on the way to six team sacks. Parsons had two sacks, while Dorance Armstrong also had a pair. Dante Fowler and Leighton Vander Esch added a sack of their own as well. The Cincinnati offensive line is possibly worse than it was last season, and the Dallas pass rush took advantage. It’s this type of shared domination that the Cowboys need to stay on track until the roster is whole again.

Micah, Micah, Micah

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue against Micah Parsons being the best player on the Dallas Cowboys—possibly the league. Fresh off a Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Parsons has started this season even stronger. Two impactful sacks of Tom Brady last week were followed up with two more against Joe Burrow on Sunday. Yet, the sack count merely offers a glimpse into the impact he had against Cincinnati.

Disrupted pass rhythms, pre-snap penalties, and opportunities for teammates were all results of the Young Lion’s presence on the field. Former Cowboy, La’el Collins, was lined up against Parsons the most often and hated every second of it. Time after time, Parsons easily blew past Collins on his way to creating an extremely unfun afternoon for Burrow. Part of the Parsons magic is his ability to successfully rush from anywhere, and there were several times a lineman ended up in Burrow’s lap as Parson barreled down the middle of the line.

There are few words to accurately describe the type of player Parsons is. There are even fewer to describe his potential. His meteoric rise has seemingly no ceiling, and this defense runs through him. As we saw on Sunday, perhaps the entire team also will as the season progresses.

Noah Brown is Ready

With Dallas starting the season thin at wide receiver, veteran role players like Brown have been looked to for support in the passing game. Brown was one of the only receivers that showed any signs of life in week one. Week two is when he came up big. After being the recipient of Rush’s only touchdown pass on the first drive of the game, Brown continued to get open during key moments in the game. Every catch he had was for a crucial first down. His fourth down conversion early on kept the offense on the field; his first career touchdown came six plays later.

The sixth-year receiver ended the day with five catches on five targets for 91 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps his biggest moment was a 12 yard catch on the final drive, giving the offense a real chance at the eventual game-winning field goal. Noah Brown has always been an extremely talented player flying under the radar for various reasons. He appears more than ready to continue his rise, especially with so many key players still out.

What’s Next

For all the misery and panic week 1 justifiably produced, the Dallas Cowboys sit at 1-1 after playing Tom Brady’s Buccaneers and the defending AFC champions. This would be seen as a favorable outcome under the best of circumstances.

Cooper Rush’s play was another notch on his belt as the go-to option for the Dallas Cowboys. It wasn’t an offensive showcase, but Rush handled his business while the defense took the game over. Kellen Moore had an obvious plan in mind to utilize the run game and allow Rush to take advantage of the defense when he could. Rush has only had to perform one game at a time thus far. The rival New York Giants are 2-0 and will be looking to add a divisional game to their win column. The lights will be bright for Monday Night Football, but he won’t be sweating it. The even composure of Cooper Rush amongst all that comes with being a Dallas Cowboy might be the X factor in what makes him a serviceable backup. He’s just here to handle his business.

So, everyone take some cues from Cooper Rush. Just like the lows from last week now feel a bit exaggerated, the highs from Sunday should not be overstated. Dallas has a front-loaded schedule, and Rush may have to face most of it. Yet, if the offense continues to settle in, and the defense maintains its consistency, Prescott could come back to a win-loss record most had the Cowboys pegged at before the season started. Indeed, if the Cowboys continue to show up like they did Sunday, this season’s trajectory will hit a sharp incline. For now, don’t get too wrapped up in the highs and lows. It’s on to New York.