- Apr 8, 2013
There comes a point when watching a special player do special things that it begins to normalize.
“Oh, that is just what he does,” will often be the conversation around town when describing a superstar when he ascends to another masterpiece performance.
All I am saying this morning when considering the way Micah Parsons has started his 2023 season, is we should not in any way normalize this. It isn’t normal. He is making elite look routine because that is all we have known. But, make no mistake about it. It isn’t even close to routine.
I was asked a few weeks ago how he compares to Cowboys greats who would pass-rush like DeMarcus Ware and Charles Haley. Both of those legends have 100 NFL sacks, Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jackets, and Cowboys Ring of Honor designations. Both of those guys feel generally untouchable when we throw their names around and should probably not be discussed with a 24-year old who wasn’t even really a pass rusher when he left Penn State. I hesitate comparing players in Canton to anyone from today because it feels disrespectful.
But, this is Micah Parsons. This is a guy who has teams terrified of him in pregame warmups. For the second straight week, he has taken a New York Quarterback and been in his head since the game began and never stopped relentlessly chasing him until the game was over.
Parsons was so good on Sunday that it felt like the game was about him. Yes, other people did play and other storylines exist, but try telling the story of the Cowboys 30-10 win over the Jets at AT&T Stadium on Sunday without mentioning him.
You can’t do it.
On the Jets very first drive, they faced a 3rd and 5 and the fireworks began. Cowboys show a potential 6-man pressure, but Leighton Vander Esch and Jayron Kearse are just trying to offer a disguise for the pass-rush. They bail out and it is only four. But, those four have a great design that we have seen before, but seldom will it work so well. Micah is wide against the Pro Bowler Duane Brown at left tackle. Brown is getting up in years and his body is not what it was in Houston, but he has been a First Team All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler. He is quality. But, on this day, he had no chance against Parsons. And on this play, there were using a beautiful tactic to make that clear.
Chauncey Golston was over the left guard’s outside shoulder and Osa Odighizuwa is outside the center’s shoulder to the same side. This means that each of them will isolate a man and that leaves Brown with no help on Parsons. As the play begins, with Golston and Osa both hard charging to the right shoulder of their guy, Parsons shows outside, but it is all just to dive back behind both of his mates in a bee-line for the QB.
Now, the right guard of the Jets, Alijah Vera-Tucker is looking for help, but logically turns to his right tackle to assist with Demarcus Lawrence. This makes sense against almost every opponent. But, this is the “Agent of Chaos” himself, Micah Parsons. He is so blindingly fast as he cuts back inside that there is no help that even notices the problem, let alone can address it. Parsons has left Brown and is on a dead sprint for the QB and is on him in an instant. You cannot express how fast it all happens and how blurry it must look for Zach Wilson.
What is wild is that this play set the tone for Parsons, but was it even one of his three biggest moments? Because the biggest moment had to have been when he appeared to score a touchdown by tackling Dalvin Cook for a loss, taking the ball away from him, recovering it easily, and then being slightly brushed on the leg or his touchdown would have stood.
Then, he had back-to-back plays early in the fourth quarter where he first hit Wilson right before a screen pass to cause a painful incompletion, followed by the next play where he is lined up over center and jab-stepping pre-snap to get the center Connor McGovern (not the ex-Cowboy, by the way) plenty nervous. McGovern did get a hand on Parsons, so he gets some credit, but did not come close to blocking him. Parsons now shoots the A-Gap to the right and Wilson begins to escape to the left.
Like a lion chasing his prey, Parsons is now in full sprint in what must have been a terrifying reality for the young QB who expected to be watching Aaron Rodgers in this game just seven days ago. But, no, it is his life that is flashing before him as he tries to out-run Parsons just long enough to get a throw off, down 27-10. The problem with that is fear impairs your judgement and while trying to escape from another painful collision with his pursuer, he throws a hopeful pass to Garrett Wilson and Jayron Kearse is able to step in the path and intercept it beautifully. Parsons will not get the credit for that takeaway, but Wilson will tell you he probably should.
Then, on the next drive, more Parsons chaos ensued. And this is the clear recipe we see now. Cowboys take a lead and then unleash the pass rush over, and over. First Parsons was held, then he recorded yet another sack as Duane Brown has had about enough of trying to deal with him. And on the very next play, Wilson throws another of his three interceptions as Malik Hooker makes a brilliant centerfield move to the sideline to deal with a Garrett Wilson go-route.
In total, Parsons had two more sacks, three tackles for loss, four QB hurries, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and an easy player-of-the-game award from me. But, this is what we now see as a normal game for this guy. If he is not the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, then we have a massive story on our hands.
I was not covering the Cowboys when Charles Haley was here, but I was definitely watching from afar. He was a piece of an unbelievable roster. Ware was one of my favorites and there were times where you thought he was the best defensive player in the NFL, but it didn’t seem to be universally agreed upon. It also didn’t happen almost every week. But, with Parsons? You feel like you are watching one of the best forces of nature that this league has ever had and he seems to do something every game that blows you away. The Cowboys went from being a competitive defense to arguably the best in the league the minute he put on the uniform at the start of 2021. That is the clearest sign of greatness in our midst.
Since he was drafted – to play a different position! – no team has had more sacks (105) and no team has more defensive takeaways (74). Also, no team has more defensive touchdowns (10), even though yesterday’s was overturned. We often give credit to Dan Quinn and he definitely deserves plenty. But, let’s remember the truths about winning the Kentucky Derby on a donkey.
You can’t do it.
You better have an amazing horse, regardless of the jockey. And Micah Parsons might be off to the best start of a defensive career that professional football has ever seen. I realize that sounds crazy, but after 35 NFL games he is at 29.5 sacks, 37 tackles for loss, and seven forced fumbles. He is a splash play machine and the type of defensive force you should consider for league MVP. And after marveling at him for his first two games this year where he has wrecked the opponents morale immediately to start both games, you can see why everyone on that defense looks scarier.
They have allowed 10 points and have 10 sacks. They have seven takeaways and have allowed one touchdown. They are scary good and one player is clearly leading the way.
Yes, there are several other interesting talking points from Cowboys 30, Jets 10, and you know I wouldn’t forget everything else, but here we are smart to lead with the lede. And that is Micah Parsons gives this team a chance at some serious heights as a football team.
All they need is cooperation from an offense that showed some impressive ideas on Sunday as well. There was definitely some short-comings in the red zone which should not be over-looked at all. Efficiency is a massive part of offensive success in this league, so third down and red zone efficiencies will often determine between success and failure. They were great on third downs in this game (9-for-18, 50%) as they hit on half of their chances and usually 50% will lead the NFL on the money down. No problem there and Dak Prescott has always been a strong 3rd down QB, despite the national noise that seems to deal in misinformation and anecdotal evidence.
Red zone efficiency? Well, 2-for-6 is brutal, 33% would be the worst red zone offense in the league over the course of the season and that can and will get you beat some weeks. Why was I not overly concerned and worked up enough to make that the thrust of this entire piece this morning? Well, because the Cowboys offense was the very best red zone offense in 2022 in the entire NFL at 71% so I know this was not a thing they struggle at very often. Instead, it appeared to me that three of the four failures in the red zone when they settled for field goals were after halftime, but before the comfortable margin when they seemed to be calling cautious plays and concepts.
In other words, it appeared Mike McCarthy knew the only way the Cowboys lose this game is if they do something silly on offense, so let’s not. Let’s take the points and let the defense go out there and attack again. I have no problem with that logic at all.
Dak Prescott was very good on this day and played a nearly perfect game. I say nearly, because he flirted with what would have been a game-changing Pick-6 on a late throw to the sideline where the impressive Sauce Gardner was lurking. He also missed an end-zone throw to Jake Ferguson in the back corner with CeeDee Lamb wide open in the other direction, too. But, we won’t fuss too much when the QB hits 82% of his passes and has a passer rating of 112. He was very good in a game where the offensive line is banged up (and getting worse, so let’s hope Zack Martin is in good repair today) and he was missing the electric Brandin Cooks. Lamb was fantastic and we would like to think that he now has the cynical fanbase convinced he is what he was promised to be. That is simply to be one of the most impressive weapons in the league who is very difficult to hold down on most Sundays. Eleven catches on 13 targets for 143 yards and it seemed like he could have had an even bigger day if it was required.
There is much to like about this 2-0 start that has been a cumulative score of 70-10. They are clearly what we expected this season as a contender in the NFC. Whether they are up with the Eagles and 49ers will not be determined early in the season against some teams that are just not up to that standard. Next is the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots, so the first month won’t provide much insight on the big picture. But, then comes a back-to-back in California and the short-term answers will begin to be revealed.
But, what you want to see is the potential of this group and they are demonstrating that. The offense and defense both appear to be well-schemed and packed with special talents. They are doing what they should be doing right now – hammering some opponents who are not in that conversation.
This is the time of year where people want bold declarations and conclusions, but that is not how the journey works. Each step must be taken and if you follow this team, I think you can feel good about where they are and where they can go. Parsons isn’t the only reason you should like the possibilities of the 2023 Dallas Cowboys, but he might be the most convincing one.
When you have No. 11 on your side and playing at this level, I think you have to really like your chances.