Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory catching fire at the right time

Randy Gregory, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Randy Gregory, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Edge rusher Randy Gregory is finally putting it all together for the Dallas Cowboys

Outside of DeMarcus Lawrence, the best defensive player on the Dallas Cowboys’ defense right now could very well be edge rusher Randy Gregory. As the regular-season finale approaches, America’s Team finds itself still in the hunt for a playoff berth, with Gregory playing some of the best football of his career.

When Randy Gregory returned to game action in week seven, he hadn’t played since the Cowboys’ loss to the Los Angles Rams in the divisional round of the 2018-2019 playoffs. Despite that, he’s caught fire at the right time looking as strong and fast as he ever has at the pro level, and has provided the Cowboys with a big spark off the edge.

Despite just playing in nine games this season while starting none, his three and a half sacks and 15 pressures both rank third on Dallas’ defense. Last weekend he had his best game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles.

His six tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles along with the consistent pressure he provided were a major reason why the Cowboys were able to hold the Eagles to under 20 points in a game that still had playoff implications for both teams. As a testament to one of the best games of his pro career, Gregory graded out as the top edge rusher in the league last week following the matchup.

The craziest part about it? He did it while playing less than half of the teams’ defensive snaps (he saw just 35 the entire game). Aldon Smith is still seeing the bulk of the playing time opposite Lawrence off the edge (last Sunday Smith saw 73% of Dallas’ snaps). Smith has largely played well this season, but there is no doubt that he’s cooled off a bit from his red hot start when he had four sacks in the first three games.

There is little doubt that Gregory’s production has warranted an increased snap count. A more consistent rotation off the edge would allow Gregory increased opportunities to leave his mark on the field.

The Dallas Cowboys took Gregory out of Nebraska in the second round of the 2015 draft. At the time he was viewed as an elite pass-rushing talent, but he plummeted down draft boards after a failed drug test. Five seasons into his career and Gregory has missed far more games than he’s played in due either to injuries or multiple suspensions. When he has seen the field his potential has been clear.

In 2018 he provided glimpses of the player he could be throughout the season, notching six sacks in 14 games (both career highs). This season, however, he seems to be close to putting it all together. Despite a lower sack total in 2020, he has been in the backfield consistently providing pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

This season Pro Football Focus has given him a grade of 85.7, which ranks seventh among all edge rushers in the NFL, and second on the team behind only Lawrence who ranks fifth overall. It’s also far above the 61.7 he earned in 2018 when he ranked 71st.

Most of the defense has struggled mightily to adapt to new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme. Gregory, however, seems to have picked it up quickly regardless of having missed so much time due to his suspension, that is something that should bode well for Dallas regardless of whether they move on from Nolan after the season or not.

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The Dallas Cowboys are playing their best stretch of football of the season right now and still have a chance to reach the playoffs. They’re going to need players like Randy Gregory to continue to step up if they want to have any hope of making noise if they get there. Even better, If Gregory can keep himself on the field, at just 28 years old, the sky feels like the limit for him going forward.