The backup quarterback has been at the forefront of the 2022 NFL season so far. This includes Jacoby Brissett in Cleveland, Joe Flacco in New York and Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco. But perhaps no backup has been as good as Cooper Rush in Dallas.
Stepping in for Dak Prescott, who could return as early as Week 5, Rush has led the Cowboys to two straight wins after throwing for 215 yards — and delivering a fourth-quarter dime to CeeDee Lamb for a touchdown — in Monday night’s 23-16 victory over the division-rival New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
The win brought Rush’s career record as a starter to 3-0 (all with Dallas), making him the first undrafted quarterback to win each of his first three NFL starts and throw for 750-plus yards over those starts since my colleague and Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner accomplished the feat in 1999, according to NFL Research.
What Rush has been able to do after being thrust into a QB1 role is pretty incredible, and he deserves a ton of credit for winning over the players in the Cowboys locker room and executing on game day.
So, what does that transition look like? What does it take to step into the starting role as a QB2?
I know from experience that it’s not an easy position to be in. In 2007 with the Carolina Panthers, I started the season as Jake Delhomme’s backup but stepped into the starting role in Week 4 with Delhomme nursing an elbow injury that ultimately ended his campaign. How an NFL quarterback approaches a game week depends entirely on whether he’s the starter or the backup.
Mondays are generally when coaches and players debrief from Sunday’s game and get a head start on the next week’s game plan. When becoming the starting quarterback, you’ve got to be in constant contact with with your offensive coordinator/play-caller and the offensive line coach from the jump. I’ve had coaches tell me, “It doesn’t matter what plays I like; it’s what you feel comfortable doing.” The only way a backup QB is cozy with the game plan is if he’s in close contact with the coaches who put it together.
Tuesday is generally an off day for players, but not the QB. This is when the play-caller and starter fine tune plays for first, second, third and fourth downs, as well as red-zone situations. Once the majority of the game plan is set (there are always adjustments made throughout the week), the QB1 and his backups receive copies of it. As Eli Manning’s backup for four seasons in New York, there were times when I didn’t get the game plan until 10 p.m. Tuesday, but Eli already had hours of preparation under his belt because he was in involved early in the week.
Knowing the game plan by Wednesday is so critical as the starting QB. You want to be able to have full command of the system/game plan while the rest of the offense is just learning it. That allows the QB to help others get on the same page and in the right spots, make the right checks and so forth. We all know the saying that games aren’t won on Sunday. This is exactly what that old adage is referring to: The quarterback must put in the work early to earn the respect and belief from his teammates that he can lead them to victory.
The rest of the week is all about executing the game plan, figuring out what the right decisions are within the plays, including audible checks. During every game week, Eli would go to the running backs room during their post-practice meetings on Thursday and the wide receivers room on Friday. He’d show specific clips of plays we had run or plays from our upcoming opponent and talk through it all. He’d say things like, “This is what I expect from you on this play.” He covered all the bases from routes to blocking to defensive tendencies.
I took this same approach when I started our preseason games in New York, meeting with the skill-position groups late in the week. Eli started 210 straight games in New York, so I didn’t step into this lane much during my time with the Giants.
Assuming the QB1 role is very difficult. The only advantage you might hold is having different tendencies than the team’s regular starter. For defenses, though, it doesn’t appear to be all that challenging to make adjustments when you have a week to prepare for a new QB. It’s like the notion that couples look more alike over time; the same goes for quarterback rooms. Everyone in Green Bay starts to play like Aaron Rodgers, with his backups emulating his on-field movements and style.
The worst thing any quarterback thrust into a starting role can do is try to digest the game play by himself. Quarterbacks can take the pressure off and settle in by involving coaches and teammates in the process. This is key for every backup, but especially if it’s been a while since your last start.
This might be what the week looks like for Patriots backup Brian Hoyer. Mac Jones’ availability is up in the air after suffering a “pretty severe” high ankle sprain in the final moments of Sunday’s loss to Baltimore. Hoyer, whose last start came in Week 4 of 2020 with the Patriots, could be in for quite a challenge this Sunday: leading the reeling Pats against the Packers in Green Bay. Consequently, the coming days loom large for the 14th-year journeyman.
What do you do to settle guys down to make sure a QB change isn’t too big of a deal? Joe Judge says “everybody’s job is to be ready to play.” Said that starts with prep and practice. When teammates see that work, “they’re confident you’re ready to perform.” #Patriots
— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) September 27, 2022
Each week of the 2022 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments from the 2021 season.
2) Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season’s efforts following Week 4. Heading into Week 4, here is Carr’s list, with up/down arrows reflecting changes from last week’s rundown:
The Bills continue to have the most dangerous offense in the league with Allen under center. Buffalo amassed nearly 500 total yards with Allen throwing for 400 and rushing for a team-high 47. The Bills were in position to win this game several times late, but the final three fourth-quarter possessions ended in zero points: missed 38-yard field goal, turnover on downs at the Dolphins’ 2-yard line and clock expiration. Allen was superb for most of the game — though he got lucky on a series of turnover-worthy throws — but watching him drop to his knees after missing Isaiah McKenzie on that fourth-and-goal with 1: 49 remaining in the game was the lasting image from this game. (Well, besides offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s meltdown in the booth.) Allen knows just how perfect he must be this season in a chaotic AFC. There was a little left to be desired Sunday.
Mahomes wasn’t at the top of his game against the Colts, and he tossed his first interception of the season in the fourth quarter. However, Mahomes’ subpar play wasn’t why the Chiefs suffered their first loss. Check out these special teams miscues:
- Muffed punt in first quarter (IND scored TD on next drive).
- Missed PAT in first quarter (K.C. trailed 7-6).
- Failed fake field goal in fourth quarter (K.C. led 17-13).
- Missed field goal in fourth quarter (K.C. led 17-13).
Just too many mistakes in the third phase. Not having Harrison Butker hurts.
Kupp was limited to four catches for 44 yards against the Cardinals, breaking the streak of 23 consecutive games with at least five receptions (tied for second-longest such streak all time). Not sure Kupp cares much, considering the Rams got the win. The highlight of his day was this 20-yard rush to the end zone — further proof that he’s one of the most dangerous players with the ball in his hands.
Rodgers was dialed in early against the Bucs, completing 12 of his first 13 pass attempts and helping the Packers take a two-score lead in the second quarter. That’s where the scoring stopped — though Aaron Jones’ goal-line fumble didn’t help. Still, Rodgers, who’s averaging the fewest passing yards per game since becoming the starter (2008), did enough to keep the haters silent for another day.
Jackson is enjoying an historic start to his 2022 campaign as the first player in the Super Bowl era to pile up at least 10 pass TDs and 100 rushing yards over the first three weeks of a season. He just threw three touchdown passes against the blitz for the second straight game and is the scariest rusher in the league right now. Jackson is a man on a mission to fill his bank account. And by the look of it, he might just throw another MVP trophy in the vault right alongside the loot.
The Chiefs did a nice job forcing the Colts to beat them with anyone other than Taylor, who was limited to 71 yards on 21 carries — that averages out to 3.4 yards per carry, his lowest figure in a game with at least 20 carries in his pro career. With early struggles surrounding Matt Ryan and the offensive line, Taylor is the key to helping Indy’s offense get back on track. Regardless of how ugly it might’ve been, the Colts found a way to get their first W.
Chubb is one of the main reasons the Browns are sitting at 2-1 three weeks into the season — and to be honest, they should be 3-0. This guy shows up for Cleveland every time the Browns take the field, and he did so again in a big division contest last Thursday, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 totes. Leaning heavily on Chubb, Cleveland’s averaging a league-leading 190.7 ground yards per game this season.
Jefferson was held to a career-low 14 receiving yards against the Lions, and it was Jeff Okudah who impressively pressed the star wideout to keep him in check for much of the game. It’s the first time Jefferson has recorded fewer than 50 receiving yards in consecutive games since the first two games of his career. While it was nice to see Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook getting more involved again, Kirk Cousins must keep Jefferson in the mix.
Chase was locked up by Jets rookie Sauce Gardner for most of the game, but the second-year wideout did notch his 15th career touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Joe Burrow for the Bengals’ only score in the second half. It was a relatively quiet week for the wideouts on this list, and Chase’s fumble didn’t help his case. A mistake like that wasn’t super critical against the Jets, but he’ll have to be great against his next challenge: the Dolphins and their stingy secondary on Thursday night.
Hurts’ improvement in the passing game has been eye-opening. In helping the Eagles to a 3-0 start, Hurts has completed 67.3 percent of his throws with a robust figure of 9.3 pass yards per attempt this season — this after completing 59.0 percent of his passes at 7.3 yards per attempt over his first two seasons. He’s making the right decisions and executing, and it’s great to see.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · QB
Brady was without his top three receivers — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones — and was dang close to walking out of Sunday’s game 3-0. Brady worked for every single one of his 271 passing yards, but he thankfully gets Evans back next week. Despite the early adversity the Bucs have faced, they still look pretty comfortable at the top of the NFC South.
Adams has now scored in each of his three games with the Raiders. This time it was a 5-yard dart to the back of the end zone. Adams and Derek Carr look like they’ve been playing together for years — without the hiatus when Adams was in Green Bay. I know the Raiders are frustrated starting 0-3, but this week’s home contest against Denver presents a chance to get off the schneid against a division opponent.
Hill and Jaylen Waddle combined for six catches (on 10 targets) and 135 receiving yards in Sunday’s narrow victory over Buffalo. In Week 2, they combined for 22 receptions (on 32 targets), 361 receiving yards and four TDs. Waddle has a few more yards on the season, but it’s Hill’s impact that allows this duo to put up this type of production in the first place. His speed and freakish ability demand so much attention, and Waddle — talented in his own right — is benefiting.
Diggs faced elite cornerback Xavien Howard on 51.1 percent of his routes run vs. Miami, hauling in four receptions on eight targets for 52 yards, per Next Gen Stats. The Dolphins’ defense kept Diggs from making the game-changing plays we’re used to seeing, forcing Allen to rely on other playmakers. Miami might be the only team in the NFL with the personnel to limit the league’s receiving-yards leader.