The Cowboys defense has been playing at a Super Bowl level recently, approaching the playoffs as the league's best rushing defense while allowing just 18.4 points per game – tied with the Denver Broncos for fourth best.
Additional help is on the way for a defensive line that has outplayed the expectations of many in the form of much-maligned defensive end Randy Gregory. It appears that Gregory will finally be able to play again over these last two weeks of the regular season, and into the playoffs.
Even if he is not able to do much in his first action since the end of the 2015 season, Gregory will be a big help for Rod Marinelli at the right defensive end position. Of all the positions on the Cowboys defense, that one has been the most glaring hole at times.
With Randy Gregory coming off that edge, this will be far from the case now. Benson Mayowa has been holding down this position without Gregory in the lineup, and to his credit has played with a much higher motor these past few weeks – bending the corner and becoming the disruptive player that flashed at times in Oakland before being signed by Dallas this off season.
Mayowa will still play an important role if Gregory is going to make the most impact, ideally being used as a situational pass rusher. While Mayowa can stack up against the run and put some pressure on the quarterback, Gregory can wreck a game in one play with his explosiveness and speed off the edge – which defensive coordinators will be aware of.
It is likely that DeMarcus Lawrence could see limited snaps for the rest of the season too, as he deals with the back injury that kept him out of the Tampa Bay game. This would give the Cowboys two impact edge rushers with fresh legs that can be used sparingly to help close out games they have the lead in.
I went back and looked at Randy Gregory's first career game, against the New York Giants, and found that he was left to rush solo against the tackle on just 50% of his snaps (9 of 18). The Giants had to not only plan to chip and hedge against Gregory, but design their passing concepts with tight ends releasing off of the right side to slow him down.
If the Cowboys can force opposing offenses to have to do this, while also planning for a full rotation of defensive tackles that are tough to move off the ball and a secondary that has covered and tackled exceptionally well, they will without a doubt be the toughest team to beat in the NFL Playoffs this season.
Randy Gregory is going to be far from Charles Haley. For now, he just needs to be Randy Gregory – and go chase after quarterbacks all winter like they know he can.
This is going to be a fun end to the 2016 season.