No longer playing Xbox, Cowboys' Micah Parsons a nightmare for quarterbacks

Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons had two sacks and 12 pressures of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on Sunday. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- What was Micah Parsons doing last November?

“Playing Xbox, training,” the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker/defensive end said after Sunday’s 19-9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. “I was in [Los Angeles] at ProActive, and I was training, and when I wasn’t training, I just was playing Xbox, watching football.”

This November, Parsons is cementing his position as one of the best rookies in the NFL after opting out of what would have been his final season at Penn State.

He had two sacks of Patrick Mahomes and a fourth-quarter tackle for loss of the Chiefs quarterback that was not ruled a sack. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, he finished with 12 pressures, tied for the most of any player of the past five seasons. Nick Bosa and J.J. Watt had similar 12-pressure games in 2019.

The last Cowboy to come close to that kind of day was defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who had 11 pressures in a 2017 game.

“I thought he was all over the field,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

Days like Sunday might not be a surprise anymore, even for a 22-year-old, and can take some of the sting out of a defeat knowing what he means not only for the Cowboys’ future but also for the present.

Parsons has eight sacks this season, one off the team rookie record shared by Willie Townes (1966) and Harvey Martin (1973), which came before sacks were recognized as an official stat. DeMarcus Ware had eight sacks as a rookie in 2005.

“That just means I got to keep being who I am and keep working,” Parsons said. “Those are all milestones and great milestones to reach, but there’s so much more out there that I got to reach. Man, I’m just hungry, and I get more and more hungry every time, every week, and right now it’s just glimpses. I still ain’t really [found my true] self yet."

In his past three games, Parsons has 5.5 sacks, which is more than any player not named Parsons has had for the Cowboys this season. He is the first player with at least 60 tackles and eight sacks in his team’s first 10 games of a season since Terrell Suggs did it for the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. He is the only player since 2000 with at least 60 tackles and eight sacks in the first 10 games of his career.

Entering Sunday’s game, he was the only player to rank inside the top 15 in pass rush win rate and run stop win rate this year among 109 players with at least 10 pass rushes and 100 run-stop plays, according to Next Gen Stats data.

He has done it from all over the field, too, lining up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end.

Against the Chiefs, he played almost exclusively as a defensive end. With Randy Gregory missing his second game with a calf injury and Lawrence still on injured reserve, the Cowboys wanted to put Parsons on the Chiefs offensive tackles.

On his first sack, he tracked Mahomes down from behind, chopping the ball free for a forced fumble. His second sack came in the third quarter.

He’s not sure quarterbacks understand how fast he is.

“Just got to keep showing them every week,” he said. “Just got to keep using my speed, using my strength and keep going downhill and keep doing what I’m doing and they will eventually see.”

What could he do if he played defensive end full time? He doesn’t wonder about it.

“Nah, man, I think that just limits to what I can do,” he said. “When I make plays sideline to sideline at linebacker, hawking receivers and you guys be like ‘Oh, why would you move him to end?’ So I think [defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, senior defensive assistant George Edwards and defensive line coach Aden Durde] are doing a really good job of moving me around, letting me play to my strengths, knowing what games to play me at end and games to play me at linebacker, and I’m just happy they drafted me with a plan.”

During practice last week, Parsons spent most of his time with the pass-rushers, but during pregame warm-ups he worked as a linebacker, although he said that was not an act of subterfuge to confuse the Chiefs coaches and staff who might have been watching before kickoff.

“I can’t give them any type of heads-up because what if I’m actually playing linebacker?” he said. “I’ve got to keep teams on their toes at all times and just do what I’m told.”

The plan changes week to week. The Cowboys might employ Parsons more as a linebacker on Thanksgiving against the Las Vegas Raiders (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS). It all depends.

“He’s as physically talented and dominant as any young player I’ve seen,” six-time Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin said. “So not surprised by anything he does out there on the field. We see it every day.”