At this time just one year ago, the Dallas Cowboys defense was a disaster. Eight games into the season, the defense had given up a league-worst 266 points, (33 ppg), and were arguably the worst overall unit in football.
Flash forward to today, and it’s hard to believe how far they’ve come. On Sunday, the Dallas defense was able to almost completely neutralize a talented Vikings offense. They held Minnesota to their second-lowest total yards (278) of the season and played a large part in the Cowboys walking out with a victory.
There are multiple reasons why the Cowboys have been able to completely turn things around on the defensive side of the ball, but one reason goes back a long ways. That’s the emergence of a “war daddy”, Randy Gregory.
Less than two years ago, Gregory was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. The former second-round pick had been suspended four times since being drafted in 2015, and many questioned if he would ever play for the Cowboys, or any other NFL team, again.
It’s pretty remarkable how far he’s come.
This season, Gregory has been everything the Cowboys have needed him to be. When fellow pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence went down after Week 1, it was up to Gregory to take the reigns of being the best pass-rusher, and overall leader of the defense.
So far, he’s been everything Dallas could have imagined.
Through six games, Gregory has recorded a team-leading five sacks and 17 pressures. The 28-year-old is the third-highest-rated pass-rusher in football, according to Pro Football Focus, behind just Myles Garrett and Maxx Crosby.
#Cowboys DE Randy Gregory finished Week 8 with a grade of 89.8 as he totaled 7 pressures, 4 hurries, 2 QB hits and 1 sack, per @PFF— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 1, 2021
He is currently the third-highest graded EDGE defender in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/k6E8CY6IWA
He is also second in football in true pass set PRP (18.6) and fifth in overall PRP (10.6), via PFF.
Here are all of Randy Gregory's pressures this season, per PFF. Easy to see RG's effectiveness when using power & on DL stunts this season. Also, this highlights that when RG wins, he wins quick, fast & in a hurry, which enables him to maximize sack opportunities. #Cowboys pic.twitter.com/mpHxC7kAmI— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 25, 2021
Gregory’s overall PFF defensive grade of 90.5 is by far the best grade on the Cowboys’ defense and is very close to DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2017 grade of 91.6, the season where he had a career-high 14.5 sacks.
How do we respond to a few personal fouls? Play every play like you are pissed. Randy Gregory, step into the #BananaStand on the final sequence starting at 1st and goal from the 4. pic.twitter.com/q20s0B218V— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) November 3, 2021
Gregory’s individual ability to rush the passer has impacted the Cowboys’ defense in an unprecedented way. Rookies Micah Parsons and Osa Odighizuwa had some early success rushing the passer, and veteran Tarell Basham came on strong against the Vikings, but none have single-handedly impacted the pass rush as much as Gregory has.
Even without their best overall defensive player for six games, Gregory’s performance has been able to keep the Cowboys as the ninth-highest rated pass-rush unit in football, via PFF.
Whether it’s with the Cowboys or not, Gregory has set himself up for a big-time payday this offseason. Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals signed pass-rusher Trey Hendrickson to a four-year, $60 million contract in free agency. It might seem crazy, but there’s a chance Gregory is able to obtain a similar deal when he hits the market next spring.
Hendrickson was coming off a career year in which he burst onto the scene with 13.5 sacks. With at least 10 games left on the schedule for the Cowboys, Gregory could easily come close to Hendrickson’s 13.5 sack total.
Teams are willing to pay a steep price for premium pass-rushers, and Gregory will be at the top of many teams’ wishlists this offseason. Wherever he ends up playing out the next few years of his career he’s going to get paid, big time.
When you look at where he was just two years ago, it’s pretty inspirational where Randy Gregory is today. When they’ve needed him most, Gregory has stepped up in a big way.
Where would the Cowboys be without him? That’s a question they hope they don’t have to answer. Not just this season, but for years to come.