Written off as a lost cause a month ago, the Cowboys are alive and kicking thanks to backup quarterback Cooper Rush. Rush is living out a fantasy, but he’s only about half of the story.
The Dallas defense is the biggest reason for the team’s success. The Cowboys have allowed a total of four touchdowns in four games while surrendering no more than 19 points in any game. Outside linebacker Micah Parsons might even be the most valuable defensive player in the NFL.
Aaron Donald and Rams will get a chance to quiet the Cowboys’ hype when the teams meet Sunday in Los Angeles. While the pressure Donald puts on Rush will be a factor, Matthew Stafford’s ability to move the ball against the Dallas defense will decide the game and point-spread result.
Stafford is struggling, to say the least, as he was sacked seven times Monday in a 24-9 loss at San Francisco. He targeted wide receiver Cooper Kupp 18 times in a one-dimensional offense that produced only 57 rushing yards against the 49ers. There’s no mystery to what the Rams are doing: feed Kupp early and often.
The Cowboys’ quarterback situation should be an easy call this week. Rush is 3-0 as the starter -- beating the Bengals, Giants and Commanders -- and it’s better to stick with his hot hand. Rush, who passed for 223 yards and two touchdowns against Washington, has not thrown an interception and has been sacked only twice.
Prescott, who had right thumb surgery on Sept. 12, does not need to rush back. He will reclaim the job when healthy, which seems likely to be Week 6 against the Eagles.
A Dallas defense that’s potentially dominant should be able to contain Stafford and handle the Rams’ predictable game plan. If Rush maintains his steady play, the Cowboys will be dangerous road dogs.
Pick: Cowboys + 5.5
Four more plays for Week 5:
COMMANDERS (+ 1.5) over Titans: There’s not a lot to like about Washington. This is simply a classic Pros-versus-Joes game that has the sharps on the home dog and the betting public on the road favorite. Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz has been sacked 17 times, second-most in the league behind the Colts’ Matt Ryan, so this is not a bet on Wentz. It’s a play against Titans in a battle of ugly offenses.
BROWNS (+ 2) over Chargers: Nick Chubb, second in the league with 459 rushing yards, will carry the mail for the Cleveland offense against a Chargers defense that’s missing Joey Bosa and still is weak against the run. This is a bad spot for the Chargers, who are playing the second of back-to-back road games. Quarterback Justin Herbert will be pressured by a tougher defense than he faced last week in Houston.
PATRIOTS (-3) over Lions: Bet on Bill Belichick and the better defense. The Patriots will move the ball on the ground and put quarterback Bailey Zappe in a position to succeed having had a week to prepare the rookie. Detroit ranks last in total defense (444.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (35.3 PPG). Lions coach Dan Campbell could slam Belichick in an arm-wrestling contest, but this is cerebral and most of the strategic advantages lie with New England.
RAVENS (-3) over Bengals: Baltimore has lost five straight home games by a total of 12 points, a stretch of frustration that includes big blown leads against the Bills and Dolphins this season. The Ravens will bounce back and improve from those failures, so this seems like a good time to bet on coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Cincinnati offense is not running the ball or protecting Joe Burrow.
Last week: 3-1-1 against the spread