It’s been a rough go for Andy Dalton since taking over the role of starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. The worst of it arrived when he suffered an illegal blow to the head from Washington linebacker Jon Bostic, knocking him out of the Week 7 bout and sidelining him for the Week 8 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. As of Tuesday morning, Dalton had still not cleared concussion protocol, and his status for this week was up in the air, but it isn’t anymore. On Tuesday afternoon, Dalton was officially placed on the team’s COVID-19/reserve list — sources tell CBS Sports — ruling him out of the Week 9 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and marking the first time Dallas has yielded a positive result from anyone since July.

That means it’s likely Ben DiNucci, the rookie seventh-round pick who garnered his first NFL start last week due to Dalton’s concussion, will get the green light to start on Sunday. DiNucci struggled against the Eagles in large part due to protection issues that saw him sacked four times and hit seven times through four quarters. 

“It was frankly more than he can handle,” owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 FM the Fan on Tuesday of DiNucci’s play against the Eagles, noting the protection issues.

It’s possible the Cowboys opt to sit DiNucci, those same sources confirm, hoping to find more luck in veterans Garrett Gilbert or a re-signed Cooper Rush. Rush signed on to join the team’s practice squad following Dalton’s injury, and is familiar with the offensive scheme of Kellen Moore from having spent his first three years as Dak Prescott’s backup before being released this offseason — claimed off waivers by the New York Giants in May before being released in September. Gilbert will also get consideration, joining the Cowboys following the injury to Prescott, now playing on his seventh NFL team since being a sixth-round pick of the Rams in 2014.

No matter who gets the nod, however, things could get ugly at Heinz Field.

Whoever the Cowboys QB is, he will now face a Steelers unit that has 30 sacks in seven games, led by T.J. Watt (6.5), Stephon Tuitt (6) and Bud Dupree (6). To make matters worse for said QB, the Cowboys and head coach Mike McCarthy have doubled down on not moving perennial All-Pro guard Zack Martin to right tackle going forward, instead relying on hopes of undrafted rookie Terence Steele somehow finally improving on what has objectively been the worst performance this season of any tackle in the NFL — allowing seven pressures and three sacks in Week 8 alone. And the Steelers aren’t simply dominant up front, but also on the back end, with an opportunistic Steven Nelson and Minkah Fitzpatrick patrolling the secondary. 

Having lost Prescott for the season and now Andy Dalton for multiple games for multiple reasons, it’s all the Cowboys can do nowadays to escape games with their heads still attached. 

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