Dak Prescott’s return from thumb injury looms

Three weeks ago, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a broken bone in his hand. The injury was supposed to keep him out for up to eight weeks. He could be back in four.

Prescott has said he is “eyeing” a return next week against the Rams. Per Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the timeline could be extended to Week Six against the Eagles because the Cowboys want Dak to be “as close to 100% healthy as possible” before he returns.

It’s not quite an invocation of the time-honored “100 percent rule,” but it’s close. If the Cowboys ever were to say that Dak won’t play until he’s “100 percent,” that’s another way of saying. “We have a hot hand in Cooper Rush, and we’re riding it until he cools off.”

With any injured starting quarterback, the team needs to ask whether some percentage below 100 is better than the backup at 100. Given that Rush has won two games in two starts and could run his career record as a starter to 4-0 against the Commanders today, the Cowboys could be tempted to let it ride, for now.

Frankly, the offense seems to be operating more efficiently and cohesively with Rush. It’s a dynamic Chris Simms and I discussed this week on PFT Live. Sometimes, a coaching staff relies too much on a starting quarterback to make big plays without the benefit of plays specifically designed and chosen to take advantage of a given defensive alignment. When the starter is injured, the coaches have to work harder to device effective plays and approaches.

Remember when coach Mike McCarthy said he wants the offense to be “smarter” under Rush? That’s another way of saying, “We can’t just put it on cruise control because we have a franchise quarterback who can execute basic plays; we need to be more creative and strategic.”

The best option would be to continue to be “smarter” even when Dak is back (and to have been “smarter” before he was injured). That could be the path to parlaying a 2-1 start into a playoff berth, and possibly to staving off an otherwise potential pursuit of Sean Payton — who definitely would have been using the smartest possible approach to offense, regardless of the skill level of the quarterback.