How Randy Gregory Can be a Difference Maker in the Playoffs

Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) in action against Minnesota Vikings guard David Yankey (66) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) in action against Minnesota Vikings guard David Yankey (66) at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

With Randy Gregory rejoining the Dallas Cowboys this week, what can be expected of the former second round pick?

After serving a 14-game suspension for violating the NFL Substance Abuse Policy, Randy Gregory is back on the active roster and cleared to play football once again. With an unresolved failed test reportedly pending, the length of his stay is unknown. What is known is the Dallas Cowboys’ desire to get the young pass-rush incorporated into their defense.

"“We’ll try to take advantage of every opportunity we have over the course of the week,” Jason Garret said. “We have to be honest and objective in our evaluation of where he is and realistic about where he’s been. Again, we’ll take it day by day. We’ll keep our mind open. We’ll keep our eyes open and make evaluations as we go.”"

After nearly a full calendar year off, it’s understandable some are skeptical as to how much the oft-suspended defensive end can offer 16 weeks into the season. After all, it’s not like we’re talking about a proven veteran. Gregory is about as inexperienced as it comes. He’s yet to log a single NFL sack and has more missed games than career tackles.

And while all of that is true, Randy Gregory can still be a difference maker in the playoffs.

Randy Gregory’s Skillset

We’re not dealing with your average player here. Randy Gregory is a blue-chip talent with unmistakable ability. His talent by itself put Randy Gregory in the top-10 in 2015 NFL Draft. It was drug issues and character concerns that made him drop all the way to the Cowboys #60 pick.

At roughly 250lbs, Randy Gregory is primarily valued as pass-rusher. He has the quick-twitch, burst, top speed, active hands, and lean needed to thrive on the edge. His arsenal is admittedly limited, but he does have a counter move inside that keeps opposing left tackles on their heels.

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Randy Gregory’s Role

Gregory’s role on this defense is really quite simple – join the rotation. Rod Marinelli employs a defensive line rotation that focuses on energy and effort. Without a double-digit sack player anywhere to be seen, the defense collects sacks as a unit.

The defense may not be as talented as their opponents but they make up for it in effort. That’s made possible by a deep rotation of edge players like Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford, Benson Mayowa, DeMarcus Lawrence, and David Irving.

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The formula works great too. The Cowboys have collected 10 sacks in the past 3 games. The only problem is that its weakness has also been exposed. Against the no-huddle offense, the Dallas Cowboys cannot substitute like they normally do and if a team employed the no-huddle full-time, the rotation will surely wear out.

The no-huddle leads to fatigue and inevitably lesser effort, neutralizing the Cowboys’ biggest strength.

Deepening the rotation with Gregory helps mitigate some of that damage.

Gregory figures into the nix on nickel and fourth quarter situations. This allows the Cowboys to field fresh legs when most players start bogging down.

Why do you think the Cowboys keep David Irving as a rotational guy? Because he’s a beast in the fourth quarter when he’s still 100% fresh and his opponent is game weary. Randy Gregory can do the same and even has a track record of success in the fourth quarter…

According to College Football Focus (subscription required), Gregory was the most productive in the game’s final stanza. CFF tracks, grades, and maintains advanced statistics on the college level. His last season at Nebraska, Randy Gregory rushed the passer 76 times in the fourth quarter.  Of those 76, he made 15 impact plays (hurries, hits, and sacks). That’s nearly 20% of the passing plays.

Since down and distance matter quite a bit when qualifying this advanced statistic, CFF also compiled data to see how impactful Gregory was in key situations. What is noteworthy of their findings is that on the 73 qualifying 3rd and long situations, Randy Gregory impacted the passer 19 times. That’s over 26% of those plays that he either hurried, hit, or sacked the opposing passer.

Randy Gregory’s Reliability

Here’s the obvious asterisk to any Randy Gregory discussion. His reliability. Just in his second season, Randy Gregory has been suspended more games than he’s actually played. Reports indicate he’s already failed another test and appealing a possible year-long banishment.

His entire history indicates this issue will not go away and Randy Gregory is destined for banishment. That’s what made this offseason prediction not so bold, Prediction: Randy Gregory Will Be Banished from the NFL  

Related Story: Flashback: Randy Gregory's Suspensions Change NOTHING for the Cowboys

I’ve spoken of Randy’s reliably incessantly over the past two years and essentially stated that the Dallas Cowboys should not rely on Gregory for ANYTHING. He is a bonus player that should be appreciated when he’s here but never relied on to play or to base decisions on.

And that’s what this is now. A bonus situation where the Cowboys are blessed with Gregory’s presence at a time when they need it the most. The Playoffs.

Next: Cowboys vs Bucs: Standouts, Notes, and Observations

Randy Gregory should not be relied on given his sorted past and possible 1-year suspension already looming overhead, but if he can use the last two games of the regular season as his own personal “pre-season”, he could be a highly talented fresh body arriving at a position of weakness at just the right time. I’d call that a difference maker.