Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush will start at QB for Cowboys vs. Steelers on Sunday

©Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is pictured on the sideline after his team scored a second quarter touchdown against the New York Giants at AT&T; Stadium Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, October 11, 2020. - Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/TNS

FRISCO, Texas — How is 2020 going for the Dallas Cowboys?

Well, they are a dismal 2-6 and have lost starting quarterback Dak Prescott to a fractured ankle and veteran backup Andy Dalton to a concussion and now COVID-19.

And now they will have a fourth different starting quarterback take the field for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the league’s last remaining undefeated team.

Rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci eliminated himself as an option following a horrifying turn at quarterback in a 23-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, prompting coach Mike McCarthy to turn to more experienced roster options in Garrett Gilbert and Cooper Rush.

Both will split reps in practice this week and McCarthy hopes to make a decision on a starter by Saturday.

In essence, the Cowboys will conduct an open competition for the starting quarterback job in the middle of the season.

“I think 2020, hopefully we’ll never see a year like this again, on a lot of different fronts,” McCarthy said. “I think like anything in this game, nothing surprises you. We’ve definitely been on the high end as far as the challenge of how it’s affected our football team. But you have to keep forging forward because there is always a path to victory. And that’s our focus. I understand what our record is.”

The Cowboys have started four quarterbacks in a season twice before: 2001 and 2015, finishing 5-11 and 4-12, respectively.

McCarthy did it in 2013 when he was with the Green Bay Packers.

But never has he been a part of a situation where there was an open competition during game week to determine the starter.

“Not by design,” McCarthy said. “A lot of times this happens where you always have to make sure your No. 2 is ready based on his experience, it’s something that’s factored into how many reps he needs, but also how many reps the starter needs. This is definitely a situation I haven’t been involved in.”

The Cowboys are doing this by design because the speed of the game was too much for the inexperienced DiNucci against the Eagles.

And the team wanted a veteran option against an aggressive Steelers defense that ranks fifth overall and first in sacks.

“Obviously, Garrett Gilbert has been here for a couple of weeks,” McCarthy said. “He’s had a chance to play in preseason games. Just has more experience. And no different with Coop. Coop played last year, is very familiar with the system. We’re going to let those two guys, we’re going to go through the week and then make a decision.”

That Gilbert and Rush are more experienced than DiNucci is being used loosely by McCarthy.

Gilbert was signed off the Browns’ practice squad Oct. 13, two days after Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Giants.

Rush, a Cowboys backup from 2017-19, was released in May after the club reached a one-year deal with Dalton. But the Cowboys signed him to the practice squad last Friday while Dalton was in concussion protocol.

Gilbert has played in six games in mostly mop up duty since joining the league in 2014. He has attempted six career passes.

Rush has played in only one game in 2017 and was 1 of 3 for two yards.

“This decision is made on the experience level in the quarterback room,” McCarthy said. “(Gilbert and Rush) both pick up the game plan quickly and you see it that way with Gilbert and you see it with my time with Cooper doing virtually meetings. I classify both guys as smart quarterbacks. They just need reps.”


©2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram