DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys are coming off one of their worst defensive performances of the season in a Week 9 loss to the Denver Broncos. They are aiming to turn things around against a surging Atlanta Falcons team in Week 10.
That task just got tougher with the news that defensive end Randy Gregory won’t play this Sunday and appears likely to be out multiple weeks after suffering a calf injury.
Gregory has been one of the best defenders for Dallas’ weaker unit, which makes his absence a tough pill to swallow. The Cowboys are already without fellow starting DE DeMarcus Lawrence, who has missed all but the season opener with a foot injury.
The defense had been doing a decent job at hurrying opposing quarterbacks, but they are now without both of their top two pass rushers which can only hinder their attempts at cohesion and continuity along the defensive line.
Without two-time Pro Bowl performer Lawrence, Gregory had been one of the saving graces on defense through the season’s first nine weeks. Gregory leads the Cowboys in pressures, is tied for the lead in sacks (5) and forced fumbles (2), and has looked like one of the top edge rushers in football.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has also praised Gregory’s play this season and acknowledged the energy that he brings to a Dallas defense that is still trying to find its consistent stable of playmakers.
“Absolutely, I think he was probably one of our best players,” said McCarthy. “You could make the argument probably one of our best players on defense. Yeah, very disruptive. Our team and defensive players feed off his activity and yeah, definitely feel for him. He’s having a heck of a year. But he’s back in there this morning and he’ll attack this rehab just like he has attacked everything else.”
There’s never a great time, of course, but this surely isn’t an ideal time for Gregory to be hurt. The Cowboys’ defense needs to pick up their performance and intensity after a rough outing. The Falcons have the weapons to move the ball, and they’ll be champing at the bit without Gregory out there to pressure quarterback Matt Ryan.
However, the Cowboys have shown the ability to adapt already this season. The team beat the Los Angeles Chargers without Gregory and Lawrence in Week 2, and they’ll need to see if they can duplicate that success in the upcoming weeks.
The plan will likely include using rookie swiss army linebacker Micah Parsons more as an edge defender, and defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Tarell Basham will get more playing time.
Another rookie, DE Chauncey Golston, will be called upon to step up and recently released end Bradlee Anae, who was brought back to the practice squad, could be activated as well. None of these options are as good as Gregory, but collectively they will be asked to get the job done.
Despite seeing their winning streak come to an end against Denver, the Cowboys are still sitting on top of the NFC East by four games in the loss column.
It’s a positive that the Cowboys have built their division lead because each of their next four games will be against opponents who are currently .500 or better, and it’s unlikely that the defense will have their starting pass rushers back for any of those upcoming contests.
At the beginning of the season, the Cowboys were thought to be contenders because of their offense. Now, more than ever, they will need to rely on Dak Prescott and their skill players while the defense will be asked to hold down the fort.
Who do you think will step up on the defensive line for the Cowboys in Gregory’s absence? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.