The Cowboys’ season had its own twists, as they rallied from a 3-5 start to win the NFC East. When the teams face on Saturday night in a playoff rematch, here is a sleeper player to watch from each team:
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory
Now we can see why the Cowboys were incredibly patient with Gregory through all his suspensions.
Gregory played only two games over the 2016 and 2017 seasons due to various drug-related suspensions. He fell to the second round of the 2015 draft in part because of a failed drug test at the scouting combine. Gregory was in danger of falling off the NFL map, but the Cowboys stuck by him.
It’s finally paying off. Gregory had six sacks in the Cowboys’ final 10 regular-season games. In Dallas’ last two games he played 66.3 and 69 percent of the defensive snaps, his two highest totals of the season.
Gregory will have opportunities to make an impact from his pass-rushing role in Saturday’s wild-card game. The Seahawks gave up 51 sacks, eighth-most in the NFL this season. Gregory’s athleticism will be a plus as the Cowboys try to keep Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson from gashing them with big plays as he scrambles.
The thought of the Cowboys counting on Gregory for any key contribution, especially in a playoff game, would have seemed crazy before this season.
“I give Randy Gregory a tremendous amount of credit for what he’s done off the field to get himself an opportunity to come back and continue to play,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, according to ESPN. “He’s worked very hard at this. It’s not an easy thing. We’ve been certainly been supportive of him organizationally, the coaches, his teammates, but he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for getting himself back to this position.”
Gregory had just one NFL sack from 2015, when he was drafted, to the start of this season. It took the Cowboys a long time for their patience to pay off, but Gregory is becoming a nice piece on their defense.
Seahawks punter Michael Dickson
Punters can make a key difference in big games. Chargers punter Mike Scifres had a huge performance in a playoff game against the Colts at the end of the 2008 season, continually pinning Indianapolis deep in an overtime win. It happens in college, too. Last season, University of Texas punter Michael Dickson was named MVP of the Texas Bowl. Dickson punted 11 times and 10 of them were downed inside the 15-yard line.
“I’ve never seen [a punter] affect the game the way he did tonight,” Texas coach Tom Herman said after the game, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Dickson will get a chance to impact an NFL playoff game on Saturday. He has had a remarkable rookie season with the Seahawks, who made him a fifth-round pick in the draft. Dickson averaged 48.2 yards per punt, second in the NFL, and his 42.5-yard net average was sixth in the league.
Dickson fits the Seahawks’ philosophy. Seattle was second in the NFL in rushing attempts, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens, who got a big bump in that category from rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Seattle led the NFL with 160 rushing yards per game. The Seahawks are happy to run the ball, control the clock, win the turnover battle and play the field-position game. The last part is when Dickson becomes a weapon.
Dickson, who is from Australia, already looks like one of the best punters in the NFL. Like the Texas Bowl last season, Dickson has a chance to be a difference-maker on Saturday night against the Cowboys.
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