FRISCO, Texas – Every year we prepare ourselves for the unexpected, and every year it seems we fail miserably.
In a game with a 100% chance of injury, it's anyone's guess who will go down and how long they'll be gone – and that includes the Cowboys' own coaching staff.
Excited as he might have been about the trio of DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons and Randy Gregory during the spring and summer, Cowboys defensive coordinator could've never guessed that he'd just now be getting to use them in December.
In fact, Quinn noted specifically that the Dallas defense has only ever had the three together in one game this season, for 28 snaps in the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.
"I think if you had told me the three of those would have been together on the field for only 28 snaps heading into whatever it is, Week 13 or 14, that's not going to go good," Quinn said on Monday.
Fortunately, that hasn't been the case. The Cowboys sit at 8-4, and their defense under Quinn's guidance has been the success story of the season. And with Gregory expected back this weekend to team up with the duo of Lawrence and Parsons, the sky might be the limit.
"There is some cool trust built and some confidence that happens when sometimes what you think might be the worst thing, losing guys for an extended time, winds up being the best thing because now we've got a big crew that is ready to roll in hard for this block of the regular season," Quinn said.
That's a fascinating subplot to this season – the idea that Parsons' emergence is due at least in some part to unfortunate circumstances.
The Cowboys asked their rookie linebacker to play edge rusher largely because Lawrence broke his foot during practice at the same time that Gregory tested positive for COVID-19. It was a move made largely out of necessity, though it was hard not to notice when Parsons tallied four quarterback hits and a crucial sack in the Week 2 win against the Chargers.
The rest in history. Even with Gregory available for much of the seasons, Parsons has proven he can bounce between various responsibilities. That's why he's sitting on top of 10 sacks to go with his 72 tackles.
"Maybe we don't have that moment where we put Micah into some different spots," Quinn said. "Now that we have that part of his game, it does allow the package to extend more."
Readiness will play a role in this process. Lawrence jumped right back in last week and immediately contributed two tackles, two pass breakups and a quarterback hit. Quinn said the coaching staff will monitor Gregory all the way up to Saturday to gauge his readiness to play. Though he did note that Gregory has pushed himself hard in rehab and conditioning these last three weeks.
Either way, it's awfully enticing to think of what these returns might make possible in this final stretch of the season. Regardless of their specific roles Sunday against Washington, Lawrence, Gregory and Neville Gallimore all figure to be available for this final month of games.
Considering Quinn's success with what he's had available, that's a fun thought – even if it might not have sounded like it at the time.
"I think we've had 33 defensive players who have had meaningful snaps so far," he said. "If you had told me that back on Sept. 1, that we would play 33 guys, I might have said, 'Oh s* *.' Now that it's happened, I was more like, 'Oh, s * *, that's pretty cool.'"