Consider that when two-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence fractured his foot in practice last Wednesday — sidelining him for six-to-eight weeks and forcing the defense to prepare to face the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday without their top to players at the position since Randy Gregory was already out with COVID-19 — Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn turned to Parsons and simply said: “You do it.”
“After practice, Coach Q came up to me and was like ‘Man, we’re going to need you to step up big for us this week,’” Parsons said of the Wednesday conversation. “I just said ‘Alright, Coach. Let’s play.’”
And boy did he ever ever.
Parsons, who has not played defensive end since high school, had eight pressures, a sack, four quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss, in spearheading a surprisingly strong performance from the maligned and short-handed Cowboys defense in a 20-17 victory against the Chargers.
A former All-American linebacker at Penn State was picked 12th overall by the Cowboys is just a football player, a dominant one at that.
“It was natural. Some people had a long day out there,” a confident Parsons said of his midweek position switch.
Parsons was the best part of a Cowboys defense that allowed the Chargers to drive into plus territory on all seven drives in the game, advancing to at least the 33-yard line each time, including four trips inside the 20.
Yet, the Cowboys, who opened the game without three starters on defense, didn’t allow more than more than 17 points, gave up just six points in the second half and forced two turnovers.
“Defensive personnel loss and the timing of it is usually the challenge,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think these young players and the adjustments — you know [LB] Micah [Parsons] playing exclusively outside, to do it on a short week — making an adjustment mid-week, really gives a lot of credit to [Defensive Coordinator] Dan [Quinn] and the staff, and most of all the players.”
No player deserves more credit than Parsons.
“I just think full-time, he’s a run and hit player,” McCarthy said. “He’s an impact player.”
Parsons made his biggest play of the game for the biggest moment on Sunday.
With the Cowboys leading 17-14, the Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert mounted a drive that put them in position to take the lead and possibly win late in the fourth quarter.
But on 2nd-and-Goal from the Dallas 7, Herbert dropped back to pass and couldn’t escape a hard-charging Parsons.
The sack and 18-yard loss forced the Chargers to settle for a game-tying field goal, leaving enough time for the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott to move in place for a game-winning field goal as time expired.
“I was chasing him all day,” Parsons said. “I really wanted Herbert, so when I finally got to him I was happy about that.”
The Cowboys are simply happy they got Parsons. He has quickly earned the respect of his teammates as well as the coaching staff.
Both Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott know a thing or two about being difference makers at rookies. Prescott was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, edging out Elliott who was the first of his two NFL rushing titles as a rookie.
Both are in awe of Parsons.
“The dude is a beast,” Elliott said. “He can be elite at linebacker. He can be elite at defensive end. I’m glad we got him on our team.”
Said Prescott: “The fact of them being able to move him around: him off the edge, him at linebacker inside, wherever you put him. He’s a special guy and he’s going to make plays.”
His ability to make plays is why the Cowboys drafted Parsons to be the centerpiece of an overhauled defense that added 16 players in the draft and free agency to improve a unit that was among the worst in franchise history last season.
His success as a pass rusher will make some interesting decisions on how the Cowboys use him going forward. Lawrence is out at least five more games. Gregory should be back for next Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Will the Cowboys move him back to middle linebacker or keep him on the edge?
The Cowboys will prefer to do the former but it will probably be a little bit of both, especially with veterans Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch showing the ability to hold down the middle. Smith led the Cowboys with nine tackles against the Chargers. Vander Esch was next with seven.
Parsons was the reason for it all.
“It’s excellent for your defense,” McCarthy said of Parsons’ versatility. I have past experience with [former Packers LB] Clay Matthews. I always feel once we moved Clay back to off the ball and more linebacker position, it made him more valuable. It was tough from an offensive perspective for targeting and trying to help on that type of player. I think that’s definitely the way I view Micah. His ability to play on and off the ball creates potential match up diversity.”
Most importantly, Parsons embraces it all.
He just wants to be on the field and be put in position to help the Cowboys win.
“My main mindset is to be dominant throughout the whole game,” he said. “Play at a high level, and every time I’m out there, make a play – whether I’m rushing the quarterback or stuffing the run. That’s what I want to do is be as dominant as possible.”