The Cowboys quarterback may be ready this week but if there’s any doubt at all, Dallas should play it smart and start Cooper Rush.
During Sunday night’s 20-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings, NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya reported that Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s calf injury may be more serious than the team had let on since the end of the New England game. In fact, the word “strain” may itself have been strained to the limit to describe the injury as Tafoya stated that while making the game-winning throw to CeeDee Lamb in Foxborough, Prescott “felt a pop” and she characterized the injury as a tear.
A tear is greater than a strain, and when Prescott himself acknowledged the injury may have been the result of his surgically-repaired ankle being more immobilized—the second possible compensation-based injury Prescott has suffered since training camp—concern naturally follows.
Despite going through more than 30 minutes at a close to full-speed clip in his warm-up routine before the game Sunday night, Dak remained inactive, allowing Cooper Rush to make his first career start. That the Cowboys incredibly won the game with Rush throwing for north of 300 yards and two scores is more than icing on the cake, it’s reason to continue resting Prescott.
Dak won’t like it but this team is deep and well-built. The defense is not only adept at forcing turnovers, but it’s also steadily becoming downright stingy to opponents. The offense, meanwhile, is loaded with playmakers at wide receiver and running back, not to mention a pair of capable tight ends. Cooper Rush is not Dak even on his best day, but with those weapons and Kellen Moore calling the plays, he may, in fact, be enough to bridge the gap with the team on a hot streak.
Prescott’s injury, according to Tafoya’s report, typically takes four weeks to heal. Thanks to the bye week, Prescott has already rested for two of those four weeks. By sitting against Denver this Sunday, he’ll cover the full period prior to taking the field on November 14th against the Falcons. Also, for what it’s worth, the Broncos just traded Von Miller to the Rams, so while Denver’s defense will still be good, it won’t be quite as fierce for Rush to contend with.
While questions about Dak’s ankle were seemingly put to rest following the Cowboys’ Week 5 victory over the Giants (the effective one-year anniversary of the injury), the fallout has continued to be felt. The shoulder strain in camp that cost him the entire preseason was believed to be compensation for the immobilized ankle as he worked on his throwing mechanics. The calf strain or “tear” could be a sequel.
When healthy, no one can argue that Dak Prescott has been anything short of elite in 2021, but if your goal is to return not just to the NFC championship game but to win your first Super Bowl in a quarter of a century, you have to be willing to play the long game here.
Denver is 4-4 on the year. Atlanta, should Dak’s calf require even more time than the four-week window Tafoya stated, is 3-4. While you don’t want to give up on the one-seed pursuit, you don’t necessarily have to against these opponents. You didn’t pay Dak Prescott to win two games in November, you paid him to win games in January and February, so don’t risk his ability to accomplish the latter while chasing the top-seed.
Dallas had the number-one seed in 2007 and 2016, both times going 13-3 on the year. In both instances, they fell in the Divisional Round. That’s not to discourage the team from aspiring to that level but to caution them. The one-seed is great, but if your quarterback isn’t healthy, it won’t matter in the end.
Play it safe. Make sure Dak is fully healed and let the team prove itself in his absence.