The Dallas Cowboys suffered major hits to their pass rush this week. On Monday, Randy Gregory was added to the Reserve/COVID list and was officially ruled out on Saturday after failing to produce two negative tests. Wednesday was an even bigger blow as the team's best pass rusher and run defender, DeMarcus Lawrence, broke a bone in his foot and will miss the next six to eight weeks.
After a narrow two-point loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, the Cowboys will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday without its two best edge rushers. Certainly not ideal, especially playing against one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in Justin Herbert. However, these setbacks have created opportunities for other players.
Tarell Basham and Dorance Armstrong will see a huge increase in snaps in place of Lawrence and Gregory. Basham is the more experienced of the two with over 1,500 career snaps to go along with 7.5 sacks. Although he was brought in during free agency to be a backup no one would have known by the way he addressed the media earlier this week.
“We've got a plan,” Basham said.
Basham and Armstrong will get assistance from several of their teammates. 2020 fifth-round pick Bradlee Anae, who only saw six defensive snaps last season, will have more opportunities to showcase the skillset that made him one of the better edge rushers coming into the NFL a season ago.
Chauncey Golston will also get a chance to make some noise. Drafted in the third round back in April, Golston has dealt with a hamstring issue since the first day of training camp and was on the PUP list until he passed a physical in August. He'll be looking to build off of his quick start in OTAs and minicamp.
The Cowboys swiss army knife on defense, Linebacker Micah Parsons, will play an important role in the pass rush as well. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Parsons will move to defensive end. Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn took full advantage and allowed Parsons to rush the passer from the edge and the interior during training camp, and he showed that he was much more the typical off-the-ball linebacker.
Lawrence and Gregory can't do anything but watch as the Cowboys pass rush looks to keep Herbert out of rhythm. However, according to Basham, they both believe in their teammate's ability to produce in their absence.
“We confident, we confident,” Basham said. “They confident in us. They sitting at home watching knowing what we about to do.”
Armstrong didn't get a lot of opportunities in his first three seasons, but not many players would playing behind Lawrence. However, he's shown gradual improvement each year and was a standout during training camp and the preseason. Armstrong is in a contract season, and with significant playing time on the horizon, he has a golden opportunity to secure a second deal in Dallas.
Changes like this don't come around a lot when you're a backup. The former fourth-round pick is ready to seize the moment and shares the same confidence as the aforementioned Basham in terms of what the Cowboys pass rush can do with Lawrence and Gregory absent.
“I've been working for a moment like this, man,” Armstrong said. “It sucks that it happened to those guys and it happened right now, but they'll be back and we're going to hold it down until they do get back.”
Injuries are tough for any team, especially when they lose their two best players at any position. Unfortunately, that's the reality of the NFL, and other players have to be ready when their number is called. Basham and Armstrong are saying all of the right things, and confidence is good to have, but the only thing that matters is what happens when the ball gets kicked off on Sunday.
It'll be interesting to see if Basham and Armstrong can step up to the plate and set the tone at the line of scrimmage, along with Parsons, which will assist the linebackers and the secondary in having good games against the Chargers in a big early-season road test for the Cowboys.