The decision has been made by the Dallas Cowboys for Week 9. Already without two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott for the remainder of the season, they looked to backup Andy Dalton to take the lead, but -- first with a concussion and now having been moved to the COVID-19 list. It was rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci getting the start in Week 8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but he's now benched as the Cowboys worked through the week to decide on if they'd name Garrett Gilbert or a newly re-signed Cooper Rush as QB1 against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
It'll be Gilbert getting the nod on Sunday, sources confirming to CBS Sports, with Rush serving as his backup. Gilbert spoke with media on Friday about the potentiality of his first start for the Cowboys, including the variables that shoved him into the role. The 29-year-old is strapping on the pads for his seventh NFL team since 2014, not including a 2019 stretch in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, and he's never had as much pressure in his football career as he'll have on Sunday afternoon.
"Yeah, I mean for starters obviously this is an awesome opportunity," he told media. "You'd love for it to be under different circumstances. Obviously hoping Andy gets back as soon as possible and gets well soon but I'm excited about it. I think Cooper's in the same boat.
"Whoever's name is called Sunday we're both going to be excited about the opportunity. We're getting ready to win a game so the two of us are preparing the best we can together to get ready to go win a football game."
It's Gilbert's name that'll be called, and either way, the Cowboys are up against it when the Steelers arrive.
DiNucci struggled against the Eagles in large part due to protection issues that saw him sacked four times and hit seven times through four quarters, taking his sack tally to 14 total since being activated following the injury to Prescott. Remaining defiant in not moving perennial All-Pro guard Zack Martin to right tackle -- -- it'll again be undrafted rookie Terence Steele attempting to stave off yet another visceral defensive front, but this time it'll be to keep Gilbert upright, if he can.
Steele has struggled mightily in stopping opposing pass rushers, and veteran Cam Erving hasn't been precipitously better on the left edge, which is why Dalton has also been sacked 14 times since taking over for Prescott.
"It was frankly more than he can handle," owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 FM the Fan this week of DiNucci's play against the Eagles, noting the protection issues.
Gilbert will run into the same issues against the likes of T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt, if not worse.
As for the decision to go with Gilbert, it understandably raises a few questions, considering Rush signed on to join the team's practice squad following Dalton's injury and is familiar with the offensive scheme of Kellen Moore from having spent his first three years as Dak Prescott's backup before being released this offseason. He re-joins the team after a very short stint with the New York Giants before being released by his former Cowboys coach in Jason Garrett (now the Giants offensive coordinator), and Dallas signed him back to the roster when Dalton got sidelined with a concussion.
It seemed initially Rush would have the edge to start against the Steelers, but it is not to be. No matter who got the nod, however, things could get ugly, and it's possible both could see the field in Week 9 -- depending on how things go over the course of the game. The Steelers defense has already racked up 30 sacks in their first seven games, led by Watt (6.5), Tuitt (6) and Bud Dupree (6). To make matters worse for Gilbert and potentially Rush, the secondary is led by opportunistic defensive backs Steven Nelson and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who are known to break games open with big plays and defensive touchdowns.
"I'm here to do the best job I can playing quarterback for his team," said Gilbert. "I haven't been here that long, but I feel great with the playbook. I think that the group that we have around our quarterback room has done a fantastic job preparing me for this. ... I feel like it's my job to go out there and perform and execute our game plan. And so, you know, what I bring to the table -- I think that's less important than just understanding what my job is and being the best quarterback I can be for this team."
As both Dalton and DiNucci can attest, the latter is predicated largely on Gilbert keeping his head on a swivel.