Micah Parsons moves to the edge for the Dallas Cowboys‘ defense to combat the loss of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Parsons played as a defensive end in high school and was recruited by Penn State to play that position. However, when you’re 240 pounds and run a sub-4.4, you’re probably going to move off the ball unless you’re Odafe Oweh.
Micah Parsons isn’t moving to defensive end
I’m sure this is just a technical inaccuracy, but I can assure you Parsons isn’t going to put his hand in the dirt as a rusher for 50+ snaps on Sunday afternoon. Now, he very well could play those snaps as an outside linebacker almost exclusively.
All this does is allow the Cowboys to get creative with who and how they intend to fit the run and rush the passer. Parsons may rush the passer or drop back into coverage with a two-point stance off the edge. This would allow the Cowboys to run some gap exchanges up front.
For example, Parsons may fake the rush and drop back into his hook zone while Osa Odighizuwa loops outside the tackle and Leighton Vander Esch shoots the B gap.
But the real question is, what could we see from Parsons on the edge, and how should the Cowboys’ defense employ him against Justin Herbert?
How the Cowboys should implement their first-round pick
This one is still pretty easy. The Cowboys should keep using Parsons as a chess piece. Hopefully, he’s better as a football chess piece than at playing chess, but I digress.
Rushing Parsons off the edge is a great way to combat their losses at the position. But he holds so much value in his versatility, it would be foolish to use him in just one way.
For example, this rush against the Buccaneers. Parsons aligns head up on the guard and attacks the B gap so Lawrence can hopefully loop around and have a free trek to Tom Brady. However, Parsons is so violent and flexible that he’s the one that generates the pressure against Brady.
Parsons dips and rips the shoulder through against Alex Cappa and slams the other into Tristan Wirfs. From there, he’s able to get extension with his left arm and reduce the rush angle to darned near a straight line to Brady. The veteran signal-caller is forced off his spot, and Odighizuwa comes from the opposite 3-technique spot to manufacture the pressure.
Parsons’ pass-rushing ability
On obvious passing downs, Parsons can be used in any way the Cowboys please, really. But the above rush shows how ahead of the game he is compared to most young pass rushers, let alone an off-ball linebacker.
Parsons feels the chip coming from the back. So, he explodes off the snap wide and flashes hands initially to show a cross chop. Yet, the RB steps up, and Parsons uses that information (and some momentum from the chip) to help facilitate the inside spin. He wins the rep and splits Wirfs and Cappa, but Brady already got the ball out.
If Parsons can pin his ears back on a few rushes against the Chargers’ right tackle, he should have success. However, if LT Rashawn Slater had trouble with anybody while at Northwestern, it was Wisconsin pass rusher Zack Baun. Baun beat Slater with speed and finesse rushes a few times in 2019. Thus, don’t be surprised if Parsons looks better against Slater than Chase Young did.
Dallas must use him in coverage, too
For the uninitiated, Austin Ekeler is kind of good as a receiver. And by “kind of good,” I mean only Christian McCaffrey is more of a problem at the position than Ekeler.
Cowboys fans want a pass rush. Conversely, they definitely don’t want to see Ekeler running a Texas route against LVE or Jaylon Smith — I can promise that. So, there must be times where it is Parsons and his supreme athleticism following Ekeler around. Unless the Cowboys want to give Jabril Cox coverage snaps, I don’t see another option.
The Cowboys’ defense could fall into something special
Parsons is a supremely gifted athlete. In a league of 1% physical talents, he’s in the top tier of freaks. If he flashes today in a high-volume pass-rushing role, it could mean this team finally found their version of T.J. Watt, just five years after they should have drafted the real one.