Backup breakdown: Cooper Rush separates himself from Mike White for the Cowboys backup QB job [Video]

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

We have a clear front-runner for the backup QB position.

There wasn’t a lot of offense for the Dallas Cowboys in their first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers as they failed to get into the end zone even once. They did put together five drives where they had opportunities to score touchdowns, but ultimately ended up with three field goals, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs.

It wasn’t a sight you wanted to stare at too long, but that’s exactly what we did when looking at the team’s two young quarterbacks battling it out for the backup spot. On the surface, you don’t need any deep analysis to see that Cooper Rush clearly outperformed Mike White on Saturday. Taking a closer look, reveals nothing to the contrary, however - it’s good examine just how good/bad each of them were on Saturday.

Here is a break down of each drive for the Cowboys two backup quarterbacks.

Cooper Rush

Drive #1: 3/5 for 60 yards, FG

Rush completed his first three passes for a total of 60 yards. Two of these passes went to Cedrick Wilson, and two of them came off of play-action fakes. His final two passes were incomplete as he overthrew Devin Smith, and threw one away after feeling pressure from a delayed blitz. The Cowboys settled for a field goal.

It was a pretty good start for Rush.

Drive #2: 1/2 for six yards, punt

The Cowboys went three-and-out on their second drive, but it wasn’t Rush’s fault. He started it off with a nice six-yard completion to Jon’Vea Johnson on an out route. After a run play that gained just a yard, Rush was right on the money to Johnson on a slant pass, but JVJ dropped it, forcing the Cowboys to punt.

Drive #3: 2/4 for 12 yards, missed FG

Rush started out by hitting Darius Jackson on a swing pass. Despite just a four-yard gain, it was good to see him go through his progressions before checking down.

He then had a couple incompletions where he scrambled out of the pocket to his right. One was a just a throw away, and the other was when he missed Jarwin down the sideline on a fourth-down play; however, the Cowboys got a new set of downs after the 49ers were called for defensive holding and roughing the passer.

The drive continued and Rush hit Dalton Schultz for an eight-yard gain over the middle, but then stalled out after he overthrew Reggie Davis. Kicker Brett Maher missed the field goal so the Cowboys came away with no points on this drive.

Drive #4: 0/2 for no yards, punt

This drive went nowhere, but Rush still looked okay. On a first-down play, he slightly overthrew Jarwin in what would have been a huge gain deep over the middle. It’s nice seeing him take deep shots - no complaints there.

After a running play with minimal gain, Rush tried to hit Schultz on the outside, but the ball went right off the tight ends hands. Rush had good protection and he did a nice job staying calm in the pocket. He displayed good footwork and that helped him align his throws well.

Drive #5: 8/10 for 60 yards, FG

Rush put together his best drive during a two-minute drill right before the half. He mixed it up with slants, outs, and a couple swing passes to Jordan Chunn. He continued to look Jarwin’s way and threw a nice strike to him for a third-down conversion.

Jon’Vea Johnson had another drop that they had to review to make sure it wasn’t a catch/fumble, but then the young receiver regrouped and finally helped Rush out with a couple of nice completions, including an 18-yard play where Rush showed great poise in the pocket.

Maybe he could’ve done without looking Chunn’s way as the reserve running back had a couple short gains that kept the clock running. The Cowboys ran out of time before seeing where this drive was going and had to settle for another field goal.

HALFTIME

Drive #6: 1/2 for six yards, punt

Not a great showing in his only drive of the second half. While it would’ve been negated by a penalty anyways (receiver stepped out of bounds), Rush under-threw JVJ that would’ve been a nice gain as Johnson was wide open down the sideline. Then, on a 3rd-and-7 play, Rush checked down to Schultz, one yard short of the first-down marker. Those plays are never enjoyable to watch.


Mike White

Drive #1: 2/3 for -5 yards, punt

White’s season debut didn’t start well when he was hit from the blindside, causing him to fumble the ball. Initially, I thought it was undrafted rookie Mitch Hyatt that missed his block, but it was rookie running back Mike Weber that failed to pick up the blitz on the edge. The sack/fumble was nullified by a defensive holding penalty. Things didn’t get any better on White’s next drop back as he was again sacked. This time it was Hyatt’s fault, and this time it counted. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he sailed a ball too high that left Wilson out to dry, causing him to get laid out. Wilson would not return and just like that White lost his most reliable receiving target.

When White finally started completing passes on his first drive, it wasn’t productive. He threw a bootleg to Weber for no gain. He tried to hit JVJ on an out-route that was just a bit too much on the outside (it would’ve been a hard catch), and then he had a dump off pass for Weber on third down that lost five yards. Not a great start for White, but it would get worse.

Drive #2: 1/2 for 14 yards, punt

White tried to hit undrafted free agent Jalen Guyton on the slant route, but the pass went incomplete. White threw a good ball, but there was no separation by Guyton and the defender was there to contest the pass. White was sacked after Hyatt again got beat off the edge. On a 3rd-and-17 play, White felt pressure, stepped up and threw a nice 14-yard strike to Devin Smith in tight coverage. The play was a few yards short of the first down, but it was a nice attempt.

Drive #3: 0/0 for no yards, fumble lost

This drive ended rather quickly. After a run play that only gained a yard, the 49ers blitzed. As White tried to escape forward, a defender was able to get his hand on him, jostling the ball loose. It was just terrible ball security by the young quarterback.

Drive #4: 4/7 for 39 yards, turnover on downs

White started looking better late in the fourth quarter as he put together some nice throws on this drive. He hit Guyton on a comeback route for 10 yards. He went to Guyton again on a slant, but the pass was a tad high (should’ve been caught). And he went to Guyton a third time for a five yard gain - all passes to the right side.

White then attacked the left side as he turned to tight end Cody McElroy. He had his best pass of the evening with a 15-yard pass to McElroy on third down. White hung in the pocket, remained calm, and threw a perfect strike.

After just throwing it into the ground after feeling pressure (again Hyatt), White went to McElroy two more times - once for a nine-yard completion, and then again on a quick strike on third down. McElroy failed to hang on to the third-down pass, and the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs after Weber came up short on a fourth-down run up the middle.

Drive #5: 2/8 for 40 yards, turnover on downs

White’s final drive started out great with two consecutive corner routes to Devin Smith, both for 20-yard gains. He then aired it out deep, again to Smith, but the ball was underthrown, allowing the safety to get over and knock the ball away. If White puts that ball over his right shoulder, that’s probably going to result in a touchdown.

After a pass interference penalty set up the Cowboys at first and goal inside the five-yard line, White failed to get his team into the end zone with four straight incompletions. At first glance, it looked like a disaster series for White. After looking at it closely, it wasn’t quite as terrible.

He tried to hit running back Darius Jackson with a short pass over the middle. Based on the coverage on his other targets, this was the right decision. It might have been completed for a touchdown if the 49ers linebacker didn’t push Jackson before the ball arrived. The next two plays, White just didn’t have anywhere to go with the ball. He tried to hit Reggie Davis on a quick out-and-in, but there was no separation by the receiver. White also scrambled to his right on third down and had nothing, so he threw it out of the end zone.

On fourth-down, White finally had an open target when Jackson was left uncovered, but the quarterback didn’t see him.

Conclusion

There was no doubt that Rush was the better quarterback on Saturday, but watching the tape still gives some hope for White. It should be noted that the Cowboys backup left tackle Cameron Fleming is much better than third-stringer Mitch Hyatt. Rush had far more clean pockets to work with than White did. Not only that, but Rush also had a better assortment of receivers. Cedrick Wilson and Blake Jarwin are much more reliable than Jalen Guyton/Devin Smith and Cody McElroy.

Rush demonstrated better pocket awareness and made several good throws, but White flashed some good throws as well. Both quarterbacks had shots at the end zone, but underthrew their intended receivers. Neither quarterback threw a pick or even a pass that should’ve been picked so that’s a great sign. White’s carelessness in the pocket makes him a liability, especially with deeper reserves protecting his blindside.

It would be real interesting to see White play with the second unit so we could get an apples and apples comparison, but right now Rush is the clear front-runner. Some are washing their hands of White already, and that seems a bit premature, but if things don’t pick up for him, he’s most likely looking like a practice squad candidate. We’ll will continue to monitor their progress as the preseason progresses.