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FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have had top-10 scoring defenses every year since 2021 when they brought in the tandem of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and linebacker Micah Parsons, whom they drafted 12th overall that offseason. Since, all Parsons has done is dominate. His 21.1% career quarterback pressure rate leads all edge rushers since 2021, his 210 career quarterback pressures are the third most in the league since 2021 and his 34.0 sacks are the fifth most in the NFL over the course of his career. 

The 2023 season as a whole is no different: Parsons' 53 quarterback pressures are the second most in the NFL as is his 19.9% quarterback pressure rate. He leads the league with a 33.6% pass rush win rate, which is when a defender beats his initial block in less than 2.5 seconds. However, despite the Cowboys dominating the New York Giants 49-17 in Week 10, Parsons was held to four quarterback pressures -- his second lowest in a game this season -- no tackles and no sacks, marking his first game this season without a tackle. Given the game's circumstances, the Giants starting undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito and the Cowboys winning the time of possession battle by nearly an entire quarter (37:21 to 22:39), the two-time First-Team All-Pro isn't sweating the box score.

"It was a fast game," Parsons said Thursday. "When you're playing more off-the-ball [as an inside linebacker] and there's a lot more three-and-outs and then you're going back and forth from D-line to off-ball, sometimes there aren't a lot of snaps out there because we got pulled late in the third quarter. There's not really a lot out there to get. That comes when you're playing a rookie quarterback who they're trying to keep everything vanilla. Everything was fast to the flat or it was a sack or throwaway. It's always tough. At the end of the day, we got the win. That's all it's about."  

Parsons began his career as an inside linebacker, but his pass-rush prowess led to him being primarily moved to defensive line in order to maximize his abilities to terrorize quarterbacks. Following Pro Bowl inside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch's season-ending neck injury, Parsons has been deployed more at linebacker in recent weeks.

Micah Parsons' career defensive snap alignment


Defensive Line








Defensive Back




*Data according to Pro Football Focus

"Yeah, we had to change a lot of personnels and packages because of Leighton's injury," Parsons said. "Usually, he would be the one off the ball with us five on the D-line. Obviously with my ability and capability of being off the ball and having a history of that, the coaches felt that was best for the team. We got great rushers as you can see, we still made a large impact. My role has to increase."

To Parsons' point, even though he didn't statistically show up, his teammates did. The Cowboys' five sacks of DeVito as a team in Week 10 were tied for the most in the NFL in Week 10, and they were evenly distributed to five different players: Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr., defensive end Dorance Armstrong, defensive end Sam Williams and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. Three of those sacks came when he was lined up at inside linebacker.

"It changes the pace because people still fear me off the ball as much as on the ball [along the defensive line] because of how many blitzes I do and things like that," Parsons said. "We're just throwing out some different personnels and things like that. Put it on film and see if we can resume it. Obviously, we have a lot of success in it, so we might come back to it."

Moving him around so an opposing offense can't completely zero in on him is something head coach Mike McCarthy has preached since Parsons' rookie year in 2021.

"Micah is always going to have a bright light on him as far as how the other team looks at him," McCarthy said Thursday. "You go back to Year 1 and the ability to move him around to create targeting challenges is something I strongly believe in because as an offensive coach, I know it's easier to help or target a guy when he's in one position. So much is made of his individual statistics. ... There are things that are very important that don't show up in the statistics, and Micah is a great example of that. He creates so much disruption and attention that others benefit from. That's part of our defense."

"Any competitor wants to make sure they're making an impact," Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday. "Sometimes his impact is other people's chances to get things because of the attention that goes his way. Any competitor would get frustrated with that. There will be games like that, there have been games like that and there will be more games like that. His moments where you leave him once or don't give help, those are the times he really makes you pay. Any competitor would get frustrated at times. Those things are out of your control, you just have to keep attacking, knowing that this is going to happen and that there will be opportunities for other people and other players. I thought that was a pretty good example of it this [past] week.

Quinn continued: "I think it's hard on him, it's hard on anybody to be in that space. What you're capable of is exceptional, so when somebody says 'You are not going to ruin the game', we'll live with that. That can be hard for any competitor. Sometimes it's easier to deal with, sometimes it's not. Yesterday [in Week 10] was one of those where I would imagine it would be hard."

Lawrence, who did register a sack on Sunday, was once "The Man" of the Cowboys pass rush prior to Parsons' arrival, and he has educated his teammate, who is seven years younger (Lawrence is 31 and Parsons is 24), about dealing with being singled out by an opponent's offensive game plan. 

"You go through dry spells like that, especially being one of the best in the league, you're going to get those games where the whole focus of their offense is on you, and it's understandable," Lawrence said Wednesday. "He knows he has to pay his dues to the league. Everybody isn't going to let him just eat for free, but just understand that he has opportunities out there. Eleven is going to be all right. We all go through those moments. We all go through different changes in the game and in life. I know he'll be straight. We got him. ... We have to trust each other and be able to go out there and understand what offenses are trying to do by taking Micah out of the picture. Absolutely gives us more opportunities, and we try to do our best and take those opportunities, making sure we get our plays when it's time."  

Safety Jayron Kearse can directly attest to how Parsons' Tasmanian Devil-like presence resulted in himself corralling an interception in Week 2 against the New York Jets in a 30-10 victory. 

"It's tremendous," Kearse said Wednesday of Parsons' impact. "Every snap if you don't have your eyes on 11 and nine times out of 10, he's going to wreck that play. So every time somebody lines up against us, they want to know where 11 is, whether he's on the edge, whether he's interior, whether he's off the ball at linebacker, you have to know where 11 is. So his impact to the game, it's not just going to show up on the stat sheet all the time because he's opening a lot of doors for a lot of other guys to go out there and make plays, get sacks and interceptions and those types of things. 

It's been a lot this season, but I would just say my interception I got against the Jets," Kearse said of a play Parsons' specifically impacted positively for him. "He beats the double team, and he's chasing [Jets quarterback] Zach Wilson. When you're running from that guy [Parsons], you're not really thinking about a lot of things. You're just trying to get the ball out of your hands so he doesn't kill you. He [Wilson] puts the ball in the air, and I'm able to make a play. That's one example, but you can turn on the tape and see a lot of examples of Micah helping out a lot of different guys when it comes to making plays."

Dallas also has a fellow two-time First-Team All-Pro on their defense who can relate to Parsons in a different way in new Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year got plenty of experience of teams throwing away from his side of the field during the 33-year-old's New England Patriots glory days. 

"Sometimes when you turn on the tape, it doesn't always show on the stat sheet," Gilmore said Thursday. "That's just how it goes. I know everybody thinks stats are everything, which is great, but when Micah is on the field, the whole offense has to change their game plan. They have to know where 11 is. He makes our job so much easier."

The Cowboys employ man coverage on 38% of their defensive plays, the third-highest such rate in the NFL, and Dallas is one of only eight teams in the league to play man on at least 30 percent of their defensive plays. They are also one of only three teams that run man coverage on over 35% or more of their defensive plays. Having a premier pass-rush like the Cowboys do, in large part because of Parsons, changes the calculus for their secondary, allowing them to regularly play tight coverage in search for more takeaways via interceptions.   

"Man coverage, you have to be on," Gilmore said. "You can't be off because one split-second mistake, it could be a touchdown. A lot of people don't play like that, and we do. It's a challenge, but we embrace it every week. It's great, it goes hand-in-hand. He's [Parsons] getting back there fast, we're playing tight coverage, so we depend on those guys up front, and they depend on us. We try to make their job as easy as possible and they definitely make our job easier with how fast they get to the quarterback."

Gilmore has been on plenty of defenses with Pro Bowl defensive linemen and edge rushers like former first overall pick defensive end Mario Williams, Haason Reddick, Brian Burns, Yannick Ngakoue and DeForst Buckner, but none of them communicated with the kind of swagger Parsons does on the field while actually backing it up. 

"He [Parsons] tells me all the time that in certain situations, 'the ball is coming out,'" Gilmore said. "It's great to hear. You tell the corner that and you have all the confidence in the world. Pre-play or even before a certain call we have. He'll say it, and nobody ever told me that before. When you hear that,  you know he's going to get there. He's usually right. I just see it every day in practice, how he can wreck the game. I'm just happy to take the field with him."

That confidence stems from Parsons' film study, and his indomitable game. 

"Based on the film, how I see they set the protection, they set me to have a one-on-one and I tell Gilly, I said 'this is my fish,'" Parsons said. "'This is a guy that I promise to God if you just press that dude, he's [the quarterback] going to have nowhere to go [with the football].' That takes trust. I think a lot of times on film he's [Gilmore] seen this year where I win so quick, he's like 'man, I see what you're talking about.' I said to him 'bro, when we are in this type of front, don't be afraid to jump something [a route] because it [the ball] has to come out. They don't have that type of time unless they're in max protection or something like that.' That's just something you get off of film, and you understand my opportunities. To be honest, I'm only ever going to have two or three opportunities a game to be one-on-one or free without getting a chip or slide or whatever it may be. So, I try to take advantage of those."   

Even though he didn't statistically take advantage of his limited opportunities in Week 10, the Carolina Panthers, the owners of the sixth-highest quarterback pressure rate allowed in 2023 (39.8%) await the Cowboys in Week 11. The first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, quarterback Bryce Young, is averaging the fewest passing yards per pass attempt this season (5.4), opening the door for Parsons and Gilmore to potentially have an early Thanksgiving feast against a Panthers team they are favored against by 10.5 points despite being on the road. 

"I always say, I got next week," Parsons said. "People act like I'm dead today and gone tomorrow. I get a great opportunity. I think that was one of three games where I didn't have a sack. I think the production is there. My presence is felt. It's getting to the point where these QBs are taking one read and running outside of the pocket, scared for their lives. So, I don't think it's anything about production-wise. I just think we're doing a phenomenal job, Coach Q is doing a phenomenal job, finding ways to get 1-on-1s and things like that. I guess time will tell when we keep playing better teams."