Cowboys Announce Starting QB for Week 8 at Eagles

Andy Dalton

Getty Andy Dalton

It’ll be Ben DiNucci’s show at The Linc.

The Dallas Cowboys downgraded quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) from doubtful to out for their Week 8 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, the team announced Saturday.

The rule-out is a formality as Dalton remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol after absorbing an illegal hit to the head amid last week’s loss to Washington. The 31-year-old won’t travel with the team, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Garrett Gilbert will function as the lone backup to DiNucci with recently-signed Cooper Rush on the practice squad.

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DiNucci, a seventh-round rookie, handled all first-string reps in practice, prepared to take on 2-4-1 Philadelphia’s seventh-ranked secondary. He’ll be the third different QB under center for the 2-5 Cowboys this season following Dalton’s brain malady and Dak Prescott’s season-ending ankle fracture and dislocation.

“As a rookie and a seventh-rounder coming in, you see Dak and you see Andy at the top of the depth chart, you think ‘There’s no chance I’m going to be on the field this year.’ But it’s 2020, what else do you expect?” he remarked Thursday, via the team’s official website.

DiNucci completed 2-of-3 passes for 39 yards in his NFL debut against Washington. The James Madison product is known for his accuracy and dual-threat ability, but it’s his unheralded arm strength that caught the attention of both players and executives alike.

Dude, he’s been slingin’ that thing,” remarked wide receiver Michael Gallup. Echoed linebacker Jaylon Smith: “Slinger. Full of confidence. You see a fire in his eyes. We believe in our brother.”

The Cowboys, losers of two straight, certainly appear to be talking themselves into DiNucci, who loosely reminds head coach Mike McCarthy of former Rams Pro Bowler Marc Bulger and club VP Stephen Jones of franchise legend Tony Romo.

“You certainly like his movement. He’s a good athlete. He’s got 10-inch hands. He can get his hands around the ball. He can sling it from a lot of angles. Reminds me a little Romo-esque in how he can release the ball from different angles,” Jones said Friday on 105.3 The Fan, via The Athletic.

It’s an unenviable draw for his first-career start, facing a hated rival on the road in a primetime affair that carries major playoff implications. But the No. 231 overall pick does inherit Prescott and Dalton’s weapons, including Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott and elite wide receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup.

Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is sure to employ a ball-controlled gameplan, leaning on Elliott and mitigating DiNucci’s big-league inexperience. But don’t expect that slinging right shoulder to take the night off, either.

“My job is actually pretty easy. I just got to get the ball to you three,” DiNucci said Thursday, referencing his WR corps.

Historic Occasion

DiNucci is the 14th signal-caller in team history to earn the starter’s title during his rookie campaign; these passers hold a 3-10 all-time mark, according to ESPN. The club has gone 2-8 across their past 10 games with a QB making his first Cowboys start. The last such rookie to emerge victoriously was Jason Garrett in 1993, per the Dallas Morning News.

Dalton was defeated in his first full-time Cowboys appearance. As did 2016 Prescott, who imparted invaluable advice earlier this week after DiNucci lamented the rarified air he quickly found himself breathing.

“We talked about this,” Prescott said, as shared by DiNucci. “Go out there and do you. Take completions. Trust the guys around you. Don’t overthink it. Football’s football. Don’t try to make it more than it is.”

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Looney, Lee Off IR

In other roster moves, Dallas activated starting center Joe Looney and linebacker Sean Lee from injured reserve, the team announced. Looney had been shelved with an MCL sprain suffered against the Browns in Week 4. Lee has yet to play this season following September sports hernia surgery.

The tentative plan is for Looney to retake the pivot position from rookie Tyler Biadasz. His return is a boost for an injury-wracked offensive line missing tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, both of whom are out for the season. The OL, which also gets back All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, who cleared concussion protocol, should look like this against Philadelphia: Brandon Knight-Connor Williams-Looney-Martin-Terence Steele.

There’s a chance the Cowboys are more tentative with the 34-year-old and perpetually-injured Lee, who could be eased in as a situational defender. Joe Thomas has performed admirably in Lee’s stead, notching 30 combined tackles (20 solo), three tackles for loss, and two QB hits across 347 snaps. The other starting LBs are Leighton Vander Esch, freshly recovered from his broken collarbone, and team sack leader Aldon Smith.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL