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Despite three costly penalties, Jason Garrett should keep playing Randy Gregory, a lot

The team’s young right defensive end keeps making costly mistakes. When will it end?

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Cowboys fans were absolutely livid with Randy Gregory on Thursday night and many wanted him out of the game. Granted, that was emotion talking in the heat of the moment, but it was extremely frustrating to watch Gregory not once, not twice, but three times, commit a costly penalty that gave the New Orleans Saints a new set of downs. You know that old saying, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, how many times was Gregory going to have to mess up for head coach Jason Garrett to take him out of the game?

The uniqueness of Garrett (some prefer the word “stubbornness”) is that he doesn’t make decisions based on emotion. It’s certain he wasn’t very pleased with his young defensive end, but Garrett doesn’t discipline his players by putting them in a timeout. They’re grown men. There’s a good chance they know what they did wrong. The key is putting it behind you and focusing on what you need to do next. Don’t stew, don’t dwell, be your best and be it right now. Here is what Garrett said about the ordeal.

“Those are two turnovers if you think about it, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said postgame. ”But Randy is going about it the right way. He’s working hard. He’ll learn from those, and he’ll get better going forward.”

The best thing for him to do is forget about it and go out and make the next play. And you have to give Gregory credit as he did exactly that. He was disruptive all night. If it wasn’t for the penalties, we’d be talking about how great he played.

But the penalties happened and they happened again and again. Gregory got called for a facemask penalty (15 yards + automatic first down), roughing the punter (15 yards + automatic first down), and offsides (5 yards + nullifying a sack/strip that would have given the Cowboys the ball). Gregory single-handedly gave the Saints first downs or new life three different times in the game. Had it not been for an out-of-this-world performance by the Cowboys defense, these mistakes could have easily cost them the game.

Gregory has been called for six penalties this season, which is the most defensive penalties of anyone on the team. Besides the three penalties he had against the Saints, he’s also been called for illegal use of the hands twice as well as an unnecessary roughness penalty when he shoved a Carolina player after the play was over (it gave the Panthers a free three points from a field goal). What’s even more astonishing is that he’s done that much damage in just 38% of the defensive snaps. 13 defensive players have logged more reps than him, yet he’s committed the most defensive penalties.

Gregory is a talented player, but one has to wonder what is going on between the ears with all the mistakes even though he is an intelligent guy.

Jerry Jones would reiterate Garrett’s statements on continuing to give him chances.

“Randy’s an outstanding athlete, and of course, he missed. This guy has made the highest SAT score of any player we’ve ever had on the team as a draft choice. He’s smart ... We just got to continue to work to coach that point. Coach that point.”

When you take a close look at Gregory’s penalties, it’s not as blatantly negligent as originally thought. On the facemask play, Gregory was slapping with his hands, reaching for Drew Brees. While he wasn’t mindful of where his hands were going, it also didn’t help that he was being held on the play.

Gregory’s active hands helped knock the football away from Brees on an earlier play in the game so while he needs to work harder to control his aggression, the intensity he’s playing with is extremely valuable. In fact, DeMarcus Lawrence was initially credited with a sack on the Brees fumble, but it was Gregory that got there first and knocked the ball loose from his hand.

On the roughing the punter penalty, the blocker went low to cut him and Gregory jumped over him. While his momentum was still carrying him towards the punter, he simply lost his balance and fell. Again, better body control would have helped, but this didn’t look like one of those times where he was trying to do too much and was careless.

And finally, the offsides penalty was so ticky-tacky. I’m not going to say it was terrible call, but let’s be honest - it was a terrible call. Players line up real close to the line of scrimmage all the time, and in some cases - they’re in the neutral zone and nothing is called. The only time a flag is ever thrown in these instances is when it’s blatantly obvious the player is offsides. This most certainly was not one of those times. In fact, if you look closely - he’s not offsides. Pro Football Talk agrees as they explain why he actually wasn’t lined up in the neutral zone.

The neutral zone is, per the official rulebook, the “space between the forward and backward points of the ball (planes) and extends to the sidelines.” Look at the photo of the pre-snap alignment.

Gregory’s hand simply doesn’t line up with or beyond the forward point of the ball.

“This is too technical for a foul to be called,” former NFL referee and current Sunday Night Football rules analyst Terry McAulay told PFT via text message. “Moreover, the [left tackle] appears to be lined up in the backfield, so it would be better to have simply warned both players in this situation.”

So I’m not even going to count this one against him. The Cowboys coaches weren’t very happy on the sidelines, but it wasn’t directed at Gregory. They were angry with the officials.

Gregory has had some mental mistakes this season, that much we know. He’s also coming back to a game he hasn’t played in a long while. He’s going to mess up, but the key is whether or not he learns from them and eliminate some of these errors or if he’s going to play with a reckless abandonment. The Cowboys defensive line had one of their best pass rushing games of the year, even if they only got credit for a two sacks (Brees is the least sacked quarterback in the league this season), and Randy Gregory is a big part of that.

Over the last couple of months, Gregory's game has really come together when you remove the penalties. Check out his stats compared to DeMarcus Lawrence over each player’s last seven games played:

Their stats at getting to the QB and disrupting plays in the backfield are pretty similar. Gregory is quietly establishing himself as a pass-rushing bookend for Lawrence.

In the New Orleans game, an early pass rush from Gregory (and Tyrone Crawford) was responsible for a bad pass from Drew Brees that Jourdan Lewis almost intercepted. Gregory is affecting football games, and not just in a bad way with penalties.

Should Garrett punish Gregory and take some of his snaps away to teach him a lesson? While I had my head-shaking moments on Thursday night, I’m over it now and glad to see 94 lining up at right defensive end.

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