National Football League
Could Cowboys, Patriots have QB controversies when starters return?
National Football League

Could Cowboys, Patriots have QB controversies when starters return?

Updated Oct. 14, 2022 1:44 p.m. ET

By Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Analyst

Despite the impressive résumés of the long-term starter, there is something about the underdog story that appeals to football fans. 

While I certainly understand the allure of finding a hidden gem as a former NFL scout, it is hard to find a starting quarterback in this league. There are only a handful of prospects with the physical dimensions, athletic traits, and arm talent to play the position, and there are even fewer quarterback hopefuls with the intangibles and football character to accentuate those skills. 

As a young scout with the Carolina Panthers, I witnessed the franchise make an organizational decision to make a change at quarterback in 2003 after Jake Delhomme dazzled as a super sub in place of Rodney Peete. Although he was not expected to be a long-term solution after replacing the veteran at halftime of the season opener, the journeyman directed eight game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime that season while leading the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots


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Despite being a part of a franchise that caught lightning in a bottle with a backup quarterback who became a long-term starter, I believe teams must be careful quickly anointing any QB2 as the potential starter based on a few solid starts as a substitute. 

This league features some of the brightest defensive minds in the game who quickly identify and exploit the flaws in a quarterback's game once they have gathered enough film to compile an extensive scouting report. 

Armed with analytical breakdowns and All-22 cut-ups, a defensive coordinator will craft sophisticated game plans that force quarterbacks out of their comfort zones. If the quarterback lacks the talent, skills, intelligence, or judgment to adjust to the defense's adjustments, he will have a hard time putting up impressive numbers or while leading his team to the end zone.  

Moreover, the offense will stall and sputter under the direction of an inexperienced quarterback attempting to figure things out on the perimeter. 

Given the challenges facing backups-turned-starters in the league, I believe this is the perfect time to look at the quarterback situations in New England and Dallas to determine whether the backups have enough staying power to seize the QB1 role. 


How quickly the bloom has come off of the Mac Jones rose in New England. The second-year pro performed at an All-Star level as a rookie starter for a surprise playoff team in 2021. 

Jones completed 67.6% of his passes with a 22-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio on a squad without a high-end No.1 receiver or a solid supporting cast. The high-efficiency rates from a first-year starter suggest Jones is mature beyond his years or played in a system that provided him with plenty of layups to pad his statistical totals. 

In studying Jones' rookie season, it was a combination of his high football IQ and a sound scheme that enabled the former Alabama standout to shine immediately as a starter. Jones picked apart defenses with pinpoint throws on easy concepts. With the young quarterback completing passes at an efficient rate while also avoiding turnovers and critical errors, the Patriots were able to win 10 games and make a return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. 

In 2022, Jones was not playing to the lofty standard that he established a season ago. The second-year pro had compiled a 2-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three games while watching his completion rate (66%) and passer rating (76.2) decline from his rookie marks. 

Although plenty of second-year players endure a "sophomore slump," the spate of turnovers from Jones led to some frustration from Bill Belichick and the coaching staff due to their direct correlation to the outcome of games. 

The offense has scored just 50 points and gained 786 yards in Jones' three starts, which is on par with his production from his rookie season (54 points, 737 yards, and three turnovers) through three games. The increase in turnovers is certainly problematic but not significant enough to warrant Jones losing his starting spot to a rookie developmental prospect 

That said, Bailey Zappe's solid performance as a fill-in enabled Belichick to put Jones squarely on the hot seat to curb his turnovers and reckless play. The rookie has provided a spark to an offense that was seemingly dormant a few games ago. 

Although the first-year fill-in has essentially put up comparable numbers to Jones (75% completion rate, 2:1 TD:INT ratio, and a 104.7 passer rating), his steady play enables Belichick to wage an in-season quarterback competition to raise the intensity and urgency within the building. 

Considering how everything in New England revolves around playing the game the right way, the faux competition between Jones and Zappe is simply a trick to coax better ball security and game management from the second-year pro. 


America's Team is clickbait when it comes to speculating about the team or its personnel. 

Dak Prescott's injury opened the door for a fifth-year pro to earn a handful of starts for a team that has rediscovered its identity during his absence. Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore have implemented run-centric game plans built around the individual and collective talents of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The duo has helped the Cowboys move the ball despite facing a myriad of "plus-one" defenses with extra defenders in the box. 

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With Elliott doing most of his damage between the tackles and Pollard torching defenders around the corner, the Cowboys have been able to lean on the ground attack to lighten the load on Rush. The veteran is averaging a little more than 26 throws (26.25) per game with a 61.7% completion rate, but he has managed to avoid making a turnover as a starter. 

By simply managing the game and avoiding critical errors that lead to losses, Rush has some observers clamoring for his services over Prescott. 

The thought of the Cowboys replacing their long-term starter with a player with inferior athleticism and arm talent is ridiculous. And the people who keep pushing for Rush to play have not paid close attention to how the coaching staff is managing the game to keep him from messing the game up. 

From the slate of safe passes to the heavy reliance on the running game, the Cowboys have essentially taken the air out of the ball to avoid a costly mistake that puts their destructive defense in a bind. 

Micah Parsons and Co. have emerged as the foundation of a team that looks like a championship contender through a quarter of the season. But they need a playmaker at quarterback to help get them over the hump. While Rush's managerial skills will help the team chalk up wins during the regular season, the playoffs are all about quarterback play and the Cowboys need their franchise player in the lineup to make an elusive Super Bowl run. 

Although Prescott's spotty playoff record and the lasting memory from his critical mistake in last year's tournament have led to some doubts about his clutch genes, the Cowboys' QB1 has all the tools needed to thrive for this team utilizing the same blue-collar approach that has worked for his backup this season. 

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on "Speak For Yourself" and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the "Moving the Sticks" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.


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