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Film analysis: Know your foe, Dallas Cowboys QB Cooper Rush

What will the one-time Giant bring to the table on Monday night?

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The 2-0 New York Giants face the 1-1 Dallas Cowboys to conclude the Week 3 slate of games on Monday Night Football. The Giants haven’t won in primetime since 2018, and they’ve yet to defeat Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. The latter fact will remain true, but the former can change against Dallas’ backup signal caller, Cooper Rush.

Prescott suffered a throwing hand injury in Dallas’ 19-3 Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just like last season on Halloween night on primetime television against the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas turned to Rush after a Prescott injury. Rush helped Dallas defeat Minnesota on the road, 20-16.

He improved his starting record to 2-0 after defeating the 20-17 Bengals at home last week. Rush led two touchdown drives to start the game, and then generated little offense in the second half, but it was enough to earn the victory. Before we get into the tape of these two games, let’s look at the 28-year-old’s career

Who is Cooper Rush?

Rush is a 2017 UDFA out of Central Michigan who spent time on Dallas’ practice squad. He spent the 2020 training camp cycle with Jason Garrett and the New York Giants before rejoining Dallas after Dak Prescott’s ankle injury. Here are Rush’s career stats:

57 of 94 passing (60.6 percent completion rate)
723 yards passing (7.7 average)
4 touchdowns, 1 interception
7 yards rushing
6 sacks absorbed, one fumble

Rush won and started two games, but he has appeared in 12 total. Rush averaged 8.9 intended air yards per attempt against the Vikings and 7.6 IAYPA against the Bengals. That is a high number for a backup quarterback who lacks high-level arm talent.

The sample size is small, but his bad throw percentage and on-target percentage don’t suggest a starting quarterback, according to Pro Football Reference. However, he knows this system, is undefeated in the league through two games, and will take what the defense gives him.

Quick game

Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore attempts to establish a groove with his backup quarterback. Moore and Rush had some success operating out of quick game - hit the back foot, read half the field, and fire the football. This success materialized against zone and man coverage.

Rush (10) takes the free-access look to the backside of a four-by-one set. CeeDee Lamb (88) has a corner enter his backpedal with off-leverage at about seven yards. At the snap, Harrison Smith (22) also backpedals. Rush liked the pre-snap leverage of the cornerback in zone-match, so he flashed his eyes to Lamb, saw Smith backpedaling, took what the defense gave him and fired the ball to Lamb for a nice gain.

Easy yards like the play above will be seized by this offense. When the Giants align in off-coverage, Moore and Rush will attempt to exploit that. However, the Cowboys receivers will have to do a good job selling their vertical stems to win on quick-hitting curls to the outside - something Amari Cooper (19) succeeded in doing.

Here’s another quick example of the rapport Rush and Cooper had last season. Cooper finished this Minnesota game with eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Off-coverage, Cooper sells the vertical, and Rush already knew - from the pre-snap alignment, and the post-snap backpedal - that Cooper would be open. When aligned to the boundary (the shorter side of the field), Rush takes these simple, quick passes to slow down opposing pass-rushers and matriculate the football down the field.

Cooper and Rush displayed good timing throughout the Minnesota game last season. Rush hits his back foot and throws the football as Cooper is entering his break to the outside. Again, Dallas is succeeding using quick game and by attacking what the defense is showing them.

It doesn’t always have to be off-leverage where Dallas can win operating out of the quick passing game; with receivers as talented and quick at the line of scrimmage - like Lamb - it’s easier to create quick separation against press-man coverage when squared up with cornerbacks who are inexperienced or lack discipline with their hips and feet. Dallas loves to align Lamb in the slot - 60 percent of his snaps so far through two games have been as a slot receiver. It’s subtle, but Lamb attacks outside to open the defensive back’s hips in that direction while pressing upfield only about a yard before breaking back inside. It’s man coverage and no one drops off the line of scrimmage, nor is anyone in the middle hook, so Rush quickly throws to his play-maker and it’s another solid and simple gain.

Rush finds Cooper in this quick game 2x2 No. 1 slant just before the middle hook defender can undercut the pass. Rush likes the pre-snap leverage of the cornerback No. 27 - outside and off; Rush is aware that Cooper can win inside, but must diagnose the coverage post-snap. If Smith carries Dalton Schultz (89) vertical, then Rush will have the slant to Cooper before Anthony Barr (55) can undercut the slant. Rush gets the snap, reads the coverage, and fires the football into Cooper for another nice gain in quick game.

Nickle and diming one’s way down the field can work, but it can also lead to mistakes through trap coverages, or good individual plays that involve baiting. The Vikings run match and Rush tries to find Cooper out of the break from the No. 2 spot; the middle defender who initially pays attention to Cedrick Wilson (1) maintains eye-contact on Rush and reads the quarterback. Once Rush goes to hit the in-breaking route, Xavier Woods (23) nearly comes away with an interception against his former team.


I don’t anticipate the Giants running Cover-2 against Dallas often. Martindale ran Cover-2 a total of there plays through two games - all against Tennessee. Cincinnati only ran it 5 percent of the time against Dallas last week, and Minnesota ran it 10 percent of the time in 2021 against Dallas.

Cover-2 is typically a coverage to protect the defense from explosive plays over the top with hard cornerbacks in the flat. Traditionally, there are five underneath defenders, two deep, and four rushers, but dropping the flat defender to certain depths to mitigate the risk of the honey hole is a wise choice in certain situations. Regardless, Rush was effective against the Cover-2 alignments he saw vs. Minnesota.

This is a third-and-8 play. Wilson sees the safeties split, and no one drop to a deep middle to remove the threat of deep over routes, so he bends around the defender and accelerates through the void. Rush reads the safeties and sees Wilson win out of his break; he hits Wilson in stride, and the receiver takes it the distance. I believe it is No. 24’s job to wall Wilson and not allow him over the middle of the field, but the route depth was enough for the receiver to elongate his release until the seas were fully-parted. Good, quick read by Rush, who put the ball right where it needed to be.

Two drives later on this third-and-12, Rush read the coverage and threw to Lamb as he enters his break into the soft spot between the safety and a flat defender who is driving underneath towards Ezekiel Elliott (21). Minnesota plays Cover-2 to the chains. The hook defenders drop to the chains, but the flat defender was flooded and the boundary middle hook player did not expand. Lamb sits and makes the catch for a first down. Rush seems to quickly diagnose and find the open receiver when facing Cover-2, albeit both of these defense weren’t well disguised.


Wink Martindale may not run much Cover-2, but he’ll certainly run Cover-1 man from off and press. Rush is not a shy quarterback when it comes to throwing deep with receivers in one-on-one matchups.

Minnesota brings the blitz, and Rush sees Cooper win with his release tempo inside to out; Rush just overthrows him here, but Rush will take these shots, and we might see him attempt to target the second cornerback, opposite Adoree’ Jackson.

Rush connects deep with Cooper, who cleanly wins on the double move. The shoulder shimmy by Rush helped to sell the deep route; this is an adjustment made by Moore, after Minnesota started to restrict the operating space of Dallas’ quick passing game. If the Giants get aggressive and attempt to anticipate the Cowboys’ quick game, Moore could try to pull this rabbit out of his proverbial hat, albeit it won’t be Cooper’s crisp route running.

Moore and Rush dialed up a nifty double move against the Bengals that went incomplete. Lamb sinks his hips and explodes vertical, and Rush just overthrows him from the far hash. The double moves are tricky, and should be on display this week against the Giants.

Speaking of Cooper’s crisp route running, and trusting teammates, here’s Rush’s touchdown to Cooper in 2021.

One way to rally a team around a backup quarterback is to go for a fourth down on your side of the field and succeed. On fourth-and-two, Dallas runs a mesh type of concept underneath with the tight end executing an OTB route, and Noah Brown (85) runs the dig, a drive type of concept. Cincinnati played the sticks, and the safety was too deep to account for Brown’s intermediate route. Rush picks up the first down by about 15 yards on the first drive of the game.

This isn’t exactly aggressive, but it’s a threat that the Giants will have to deal with on Monday. The fourth down conversion led to this touchdown reception by Brown. The Cowboys identity is focused around Elliott and running the football - this is true with a healthy Dak Prescott. New York must be aware of the play action passing attack, and the damage it can do to the Giants second-level defenders who are seemingly phased out of the defensive game plan in lieu of quicker safeties. The injury to Dalton Schultz could help the Giants maintain lighter personnel, which may combat Dallas’ ability to work play-action, but New York has struggle to defend plays like the touchdown above.


Rush is a backup quarterback for a reason. He is comfortable in this system and plays well within the confines of Moore’s playbook, but he doesn’t have the arm talent necessary to consistently elevate those around him.

Rush throws this ball from the far hash, between the 26- and 27-yard line, and it lands on the opposite 37-yard line. That’s not an easy throw, but a throw NFL starters typically make. Rush underthrows it by several yards and puts it inside, which leaves the ball more susceptible to interceptions.

This pass is a 33-yard completion to Cooper, but it’s placed inside and more a testament to Cooper’s ability to adjust to the football. A cornerback with better overall instincts would make a play on the ball thrown inside towards his leverage. This, again, is an aggressive throw from the far hash.

Another double move by Cooper, and there is a ton to appreciate about this play from Rush. First, he goes through a full-field read. Secondly, he is patient in the pocket and works his way back to the field side where Cooper was isolated - off the double move - against Harrison Smith. However, Rush’s touch and ball placement are off and he leads Cooper out of bounds.

His mechanics are poor on this pass, as he falls back and attempts to side-arm the pass into a Cooper slant. Rush puts the ball behind and almost throws an interception.

It’s not just a lack of velocity on deep passes that lead to some of these throws that are off-target; Rush also struggles to consistently hit receivers in the numbers, specifically on far hash throws near the sideline.

Rush almost throws a pick six on this play to Pollard in the flat. The ball dips and is a bit late to come out, resulting in an almost game-swinging play by Cincinnati's defense.

Martindale loves to drop the end man on the line of scrimmage off into coverage on simulated pressure. Oshane Ximines and Jihad Ward were both used in coverage a collective 12 times in a similar fashion. Rush nearly throws an interception to Sam Hubbard (94) on a play just like the one Martindale loves to run.

Get pressure

No human wants to get hit. Pressuring the quarterback is within the DNA of Martindale, and he’s about to receive a boost in personnel with the possible return of Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Rush throws this interception with pressure around him. Minnesota sends four with a twist at the top of the screen, and pressure coming from the right side. Rush overthrows the Schultz out and the adjacent defender comes away with a gift. Martindale’s ability to scheme pressure with four, five, or six rushers could help exploit Rush’s accuracy deficiencies throughout the game against the Cowboys.

This well-executed twist up front by Cincinnati almost gets home, prompting Rush to throw Pollard in the flat. Rush feels the rush and falls back as he throws, resulting in an underthrown pass that goes incomplete.

On third-and-7 in the second quarter, the Bengals crowd the line of scrimmage with seven rushers, dropping one into coverage. The six pass rushers create an unblocked defender on the edge, as center Tyler Biadasz (63) must initially account for Logan Wilson (55). Rush puts the ball inside, as he looks rattled releasing the football, and it’s almost intercepted by the Bengals.

Minnesota appears to be in a quarters or two-read coverage look with seven guys crowded on the line of scrimmage. This is the type of look Martindale employs. Two defenders on the left side of Dallas’ protection drop into middle hooks and the confusion creates leaves Woods unblocked for an easy strip sack. Martindale will look to replicate this on Monday.

Final thoughts

The Giants have a realistic shot to start the season with three straight wins - something many of us did not foresee. I don’t believe Dallas is an easy win, even with Rush, who is comfortable in Kellen Moore’s system and is undefeated as a starter through two games against solid opponents. Rush is still a backup quarterback who struggles with consistent ball placement and offers little as an athlete. He could have easily thrown three interceptions against Cincinnati, so the Giants have to take advantage of turnover opportunities when they present themselves.

The Giants can win this football game, and the easiest path to victory is through the manipulation and pressure of Martindale’s scheme, and the Giants' ability to stay disciplined and execute at a high level. Homefield advantage should be big for the Giants in this game on prime time television. If you’re attending the game, wear white, cheer loud, and make Mike McCarthy begrudgingly repeat the sentiments uttered by Matt Rhule “Obviously, the crowd noise was a factor.