Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be back in the saddle Sunday afternoon, set to make his first start since fracturing his throwing thumb in an opening night loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers six weeks ago.
And even though America’s Team – perhaps to the surprise of many – went 4-1 during his absence, a Cowboys Hall of Famer believes Prescott’s return on the heels of a Week 6 loss to the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles is ideally timed.
“I think it worked out perfectly,” Michael Irvin told USA TODAY Sports. “If Cooper Rush had beaten Philly, we would have had some unrealistic (expectations).”
“The Playmaker” is, of course, referring to Prescott’s backup, who’d run his NFL record to 5-0 prior to Sunday night’s 26-17 loss at Philly. Rush performed so well during Prescott’s recovery period that owner Jerry Jones playfully hinted at a quarterback controversy. Others, including Irvin’s former teammate, Troy Aikman, even seemed to give the notion serious thought.
“Considering what they’ve been able to do and how they’ve been able to win games with Cooper Rush, I think that becomes a real question the organization has to answer,” Aikman said before the setback to the Eagles.
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Irvin’s faith in Prescott, a two-time Pro Bowler, never wavered. But he does agree that Philadelphia made the switch away from Rush much easier for all involved.
“It certainly helps making that transition,” he said. “Cooper Rush has done such a great job and performed so admirably. … I’m so happy for Cooper Rush, but I’ve always said Dak is the better quarterback, and Dak should be in the game.
“It would have been a different thing if Cooper Rush had been throwing for 250 yards while they were winning. But some of those wins, he only threw for 100 yards. I don’t remember him striking out and getting any first downs with his feet. There are a lot of elements Dak will add to that offense.”
And that points to the fundamental difference, Rush generally bound to the pocket while Prescott can make plays on the move – particularly in the red zone and on third down. Dallas also placed far more emphasis on its run game with Rush in the lineup, averaging 29 carries for 128.4 yards. The Cowboys rushed 18 times for 71 yards against the Bucs. In coach Mike McCarthy’s first two seasons, Dallas’ running backs averaged 23 carries for 101 yards on a per-game basis.
But Irvin is left incredulous by suggestions that McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should replicate the recent run-heavy approach as Prescott finally returns to action.
“You have more options, sometimes we should take those options,” said Irvin. “Dak Prescott? I want to be able to throw that ball. There are a lot of things that Dak can do that you want to incorporate. So it’s almost a little bit crazy to me that you you’d want to keep the same game plan that you had with Cooper Rush – that would be cheating the gifts and talents of Dak Prescott.
“There’s a reason we’re paying him $40 million a year and a reason we’re paying Cooper Rush whatever we’re paying Cooper Rush.”
Rush’s base salary for 2022 is a shade over $1 million. During his five starts this season, he averaged 28.6 passing attempts, 191.2 yards and a TD. Last season, Prescott’s only full one with McCarthy, he averaged 37.3 throws, 278.1 yards and 2.3 TD passes. Dallas finished 12-5 while employing that formula and won the NFC East.
“Not to use that other $38 million, or whatever the difference is, is absolutely asinine,” continued Irvin. “Stop asking my $40 million quarterback to do the same things as my ($1) million quarterback.
“I’m gonna ask him to do some more, that’s why I’m paying him.”
The message of Irvin, who spoke while promoting TradeZing (a live-streaming, social engagement platform designed for Millennial and Gen Z traders), echoes the one that emanated from the Cowboys training facility during the week as Prescott resumed practicing in full.
“Coop did an amazing job for us, but (Prescott) is kind of that life source for us on offense,” said perennial All-Pro guard Zack Martin.
Prescott will have the opportunity to underscore that point Sunday against the Detroit Lions, whose defense has surrendered the most yards and points on a per-game basis this season, when they come to AT&T Stadium.
“He went out there and did everything I expected Cooper to do,” Prescott said Thursday.
“Understand that everybody had to raise their level and everybody is going to continue to raise their level. That is what he has done and what the team has done. Now I can come back and we can keep rolling.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.