FRISCO, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys will have their fourth different starting quarterback of the season against undefeated Pittsburgh with Andy Dalton unavailable because of COVID-19 protocols.
Coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday he was benching rookie Ben DiNucci in favor of either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush. Gilbert and Rush will compete for the job in practice, and one will start Sunday at home against the Steelers (7-0).
DiNucci looked overmatched in his first start at Philadelphia last weekend, a 23-9 win by the Eagles. The Cowboys (2-6) rarely threw down the field, and DiNucci lost two fumbles.
“The decision was made to go with the two experienced quarterbacks,” McCarthy said. “I just felt with the opponent that we’re playing, we need some more experience at that position.”
Dallas last had four different starting quarterbacks in the same season five years ago, when Tony Romo broke his collarbone twice and the Cowboys finished 4-12. Brandon Weeden, midseason pickup Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, now the Dallas offensive coordinator, were the others.
The Cowboys had to start DiNucci, a seventh-round pick, because Dalton sustained a concussion the previous week in Washington. It was Dalton’s second start in place of star Dak Prescott, who is out for the season with a broken ankle.
McCarthy said the club is hopeful Dalton will come off the COVID-19 list late next week, when Dallas has its bye. If so, Dalton would be in line to start at Minnesota on Nov. 22.
While Gilbert and Rush have fewer combined career passing attempts (nine) than DiNucci’s 43 from the past two games, both have been in the league significantly longer.
Gilbert, the former Texas quarterback who finished his college career at SMU, was a sixth-round pick by the Rams in 2014 and has bounced round the league ever since. The Cowboys signed him off Cleveland’s practice squad after Prescott’s injury in Week 5.
Rush was Prescott’s backup for three seasons but rarely saw the field. The Cowboys waived him after signing Dalton to a one-year contract to be Prescott’s backup. Dalton started for nine years in Cincinnati before the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow No. 1 overall and turned the 33-year-old loose.
After Dalton was injured, the Cowboys added Rush to the practice squad. The Giants claimed Rush off waivers in May, but released him from their practice squad in December.
Notes: Punter Chris Jones had surgery for a core muscle injury and was expected to miss several weeks. Hunter Niswander is expected to take over punting duties. He was signed to the practice squad last week.