Cowboys Expected to go with Ben DiNucci at QB against Eagles

Ed Kracz

PHILADELPHIA - Andy Dalton or Ben DiNucci?

Does it matter who starts at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys when they visit the Eagles in primetime on Sunday night?

Linebacker Alex Singleton made the best point of the week when he was asked that question.

“They’ll do a lot of the same things, it’s not like they’re going to come in and redesign their offense based on a new quarterback,” said Singleton.

It looks like it will be DiNucci after Dalton was listed on Friday as doubtful for the game.

“Ben is off to a good start,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on a Wednesday call with Eagles media. “We’ve spent a lot of time here the last 48 hours going through the preparation as if he was going to start. He’s obviously young, but he’s a good athlete, has good arm talent, and a very instinctive player. It’ll be a really good opportunity for him to get some reps and prepare as a starter.”

DiNucci is more mobile than Dalton, not that he’s Lamar Jackson or anything. He does have a resume for running, though while at James Madison University.

In two seasons there, DiNucci ran 229 times for 1,002 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last year at JMU, he 122 runs for 569 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and seven scores.

He is a product of Western Pennsylvania, playing at Pine-Richland High School then heading to the University of Pittsburgh before transferring to James Madison.

“You can’t take no one lightly,” said Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox, who is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing three games and returning to just three snaps against New York.

“Ben DiNucci is an NFL quarterback. He was drafted in the seventh round. He’s able to make plays and that shows by him getting inside the league. You can’t take anyone for a slouch and we have to be ready for anything thrown at us. He can use his legs and make a throw as well. Looking forward to this week no matter who they have out there.”

After seeing what Giants quarterback Daniel Jones did to the Eagles last Thursday night when he should have had a 92-yard touchdown run but stumbled inside the 15 after taking off untouched around the right side and settled for “only” an 80-yard run, well, DiNucci could be problematic.

That sort of outside run Jones has been a problem for the Eagles all season long, and that’s getting beaten on the perimeter by players such as QBs and wide receivers.

“Those are plays that just stretch your whole defense, whether it's a reverse or a quarterback play like that,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “…Just puts more emphasis on just being stone cold on the outside part of the field. It's just the way offenses are now. That's been a layer to the run game that ten years ago, five years ago, wasn't as big.

“That (Jones) play wasn't our best. I mean, we didn't come back on the quarterback the way that we should have on that. Then the defense I was in, we were half-field on the other side and sort of wasted our middle of the field safety that can get that ball down because he wasn't a middle of the field safety. 

"Robey (CB Nickell Robey-Coleman) was trying his best to hold guys off just to buy us some time to get there but there was nobody there to get there. That certainly wasn't our best play, but I think it remains - if we can eliminate those plays, we can make it hard for people to drive the ball.”

DiNucci won’t have to do it himself, either.

While the Cowboys are banged up on the offensive line – though hopeful of getting back Zack Martin, who is one of the best guards in the league – their skill position players remain a threat, starting with running back Ezekiel Elliott and extending to three very strong receivers in Amari Cooper, who is second in the league in yards receiving with 583, Michael Gallup, and rookie CeeDee Lamb.

"He's been slinging that thing," Gallup said. "He's been good. He comes up after every period that we've got and he's like, 'My job is actually pretty easy, I've just got to get you three the ball and let y'all go to work. It's not that hard.' So it's been good."

The Eagles spent some of the week preparing for both, but probably more for DiNucci after seeing the hit that rocked Dalton.

You better believe they've been prepping for the Cowboys' other weapons, too.

“Just looking at the receiving corps, this might be one of the best receiving corps we face all year,” said Maddox. “They have guys that can make plays from all three of them. They’re explosive, fast, good hands, they have guys that can do it all. 

"This is a challenge for us to keep these guys to no touchdowns and under 100 yards receiving, each and every one of them, so this will be a tough week upon us, but we’re always challenged and ready to go.”

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