Cowboys HC McCarthy Reveals Blunt Reasoning for Benching QB Ben DiNucci

Cowboys QB Ben DiNucci

Getty Cowboys QB Ben DiNucci

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy easily explained away his decision to name a new starting quarterback in Andy Dalton’s extended absence.

McCarthy confirmed reports that rookie Ben Dinucci, who started the team’s Week 8 loss to Philadelphia, will not be under center Sunday against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.

“The decision was made to go with the two experienced quarterbacks,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday. “I just felt with the opponent that we’re playing, we need some more experience at the position.”

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With DiNucci being sent back to the pine and Dalton now on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list, the battle to lead Dallas’ offense is between third-stringer Garrett Gilbert and recently-signed practice-squadder Cooper Rush. The two are expected to split practice reps Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore render a final call.

“Garrett Gilbert has been here for a couple of weeks, he’s had a chance to play in preseason games. Just has more experience. And no different with Coop,” McCarthy said, via the club’s official website. “Coop played last year, is very familiar with the system. (Offensive coordinator) Kellen Moore has a lot of confidence there. We’re going to let those two guys (practice), we’re going to go through the week and then make a decision.”

When the Dalton news broke, most immediately assumed DiNucci would retain the starting gig despite an uninspiring showing against the Eagles in which he completed 21-of-40 passes for just 180 scoreless yards and lost two fumbles amid the 23-9 defeat.

The performance drew sharp criticism from Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who picked apart the James Madison product in a Tuesday radio interview — a clear indication the club was planning to go another route.

“I think that it was a lot for him. I think we certainly, as a team, paid the price to have him come in and under those circumstances. And that’s almost trite. It was frankly more than he could handle,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday the Cowboys are “leaning towards” starting Gilbert, a 2014 draft pick of the Rams who most recently led the Alliance of American Football in passing yards (2,152), attempts (259), completions (157), and passer rating (99.1), and ranked second in TD passes (13) when the league shuttered football operations in April 2019.

Gilbert joined the Cleveland Browns days after the AAF folded and made five appearances last year. Retained for 2020, he was waived by Cleveland on Sept. 5. Altogether, Gilbert, who signed with Dallas on Oct. 12, has 40 yards and two completions to his name across six career games.

Rush, of course, was added by the Cowboys in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. He served as Dak Prescott’s understudy for three seasons, and aside from three pass attempts as a rookie, never appeared in a regular-season game. Rush was waived shortly after Dalton’s signing.

The 26-year-old quickly landed on his feet, however, reuniting with fired Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who became the Giants’ offensive coordinator. Rush was released at final cuts and re-signed to New York’s taxi squad, from which he was chopped on Sept. 29.

The Cowboys officially signed Rush to their practice squad earlier this week after he passed requisite COVID-19 testing. He would need to be activated to the 53-man roster in order to play Sunday.

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