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3 & Out

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3 & Out: Dak's Top 5 Starts; Micah Parsons' Debut


FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics fresh off an all-time season opener, with a pivotal Week 2 matchup against the Chargers next:

  • Micah's Debut
  • Dak's Best Game?
  • Replacing MG

I Know…

there's plenty Micah Parsons can build on from his first regular-season game.

The rookie linebacker and first-round draft pick played 51 of 65 defensive snaps against Tampa Bay, posting seven tackles, a pass deflection against Leonard Fournette and a hit on Tom Brady. As expected, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn played Parsons all over the place as an off-the-ball linebacker and situational pass rusher. Watching it back, I counted (unofficially) 12 snaps as a rusher or blitzer from the middle, left or right. Once in the first quarter he lined up on the right edge and dropped in coverage after the snap, almost breaking up a pass to Rob Gronkowski.

Parsons and the defense had mixed results against Gronk. But the rookie showed good range covering tight ends and running backs all over the field, occasionally lining up out wide. He made a nice open-field tackle on Fournette in the third quarter, forcing a third-and-6 from the Cowboys' 11-yard line. (The next play, Brady and Gronkowski caught Dallas in a zero-blitz and scored their second TD of the game together.)

"He's an excellent competitor, so this is kind of what he's built for," Quinn said about Parsons. "I would say as you go through it, the communication from his end, I thought was strong. I just went through the process with him – 'What did you like about the process, what do you still need to work on' as we're going through getting into his next game week. We had a good discussion about the calls, the situations, the things that come up. It was really good. … I think he's just going to continue to make strides as we go."

As he's shown throughout college and preseason, Parsons found himself around the ball quite a bit. One particular 'almost' play in the fourth quarter: the 50-50 ball Brady threw off his back foot under heavy pressure with Dallas trailing 28-26. Parsons was in position near the sideline against Fournette but couldn't quite make the play.

"He is an excellent competitor, so it was one of those really good teachable moments to say, 'There's never a chance to relax. They're always throwing it to your player,'" Quinn said. "The guy was in the flat, (Brady) got moved around in the pocket and then he throws it out there. That is the quintessential play for him moving forward because he is an excellent competitor."

I Think…

last Thursday's opener was the best Dak Prescott we've seen in 73 starts, counting playoffs, over the last six seasons.

On Friday's edition of Talkin' Cowboys, I declared the 403-yard, three-touchdown performance against Tampa Bay was Top 5 in the Dak catalog. Admittedly, fueled by coffee on a solid three hours' sleep, I put zero thought behind that statement.

Now well rested and strong of mind, here's my Top 5:

  • 5. The 2019 season opener against the Giants. You might say Kellen Moore's first game as offensive coordinator went OK. With Ezekiel Elliott ramping back up following a training camp contract holdout, the offense leaned on the passing game, and Prescott delivered a perfect QB rating (158.3) with 405 yards and four touchdowns to zero interceptions.
  • 4. The 2018 regular-season finale at the Giants. Yes, I'm aware this game lacked significance in the standings. The Cowboys were locked into their playoff seed and the Giants were eliminated from postseason contention. But Prescott was spectacular, passing for a career-high 387 yards and four touchdowns (no picks) without Elliott in the lineup. He also made the best throw of his career to date: an absolute dime to Cole Beasley on the move for the deciding TD in the final seconds.
  • 3. The Cowboys' comeback win over the Steelers in 2016. To me, this was the game Prescott took the starting job from Tony Romo and never looked back. The Cowboys improved to 8-1 with rookies Prescott and Elliott leading the way against Ben Roethlisberger and a contending Steelers team. Prescott had 319 passing yards and two touchdowns. It was also the best road win of his Rookie of the Year campaign. (Honorable Mention: the victory at Lambeau Field a month earlier.)
  • 2. The 2016 divisional playoff loss to Green Bay. Even in defeat, this was an inflection point in Prescott's young career. After a slow start for the offense, he went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers in a win-or-go-home situation (302 passing yards, three touchdowns, one pick) and led Dallas to a tying field goal in the final minute, erasing a 15-point second half lead.
  • 1. Tampa. Prescott hadn't played a game in 333 days. He had only six training camp practices in pads this summer, counting the July 27 practice in Oxnard when he felt tightness in his shoulder and exited early. To miss that much time and show that combination of poise, command and touch against arguably the best defense in the league … what else can you say? It should only give him and the offense more confidence moving forward, despite the absence of La'el Collins (five-game suspension) and Michael Gallup (left calf strain) for a few weeks.

I Have No Idea…

exactly how much time Michael Gallup will miss, but the Cowboys feel good about their depth at wide receiver.

Cedrick Wilson likely will take the bulk of the No. 3 receiver reps while Gallup is on Reserve/Injured for at least the next three weeks. Noah Brown has rejoined the rotation from the Reserve/COVID list, and Prescott has established a good rapport with both wideouts.

Here are their receiving stats with Prescott since 2020:

  • Wilson15 catches on 20 targets, 190 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Brown7 catches on 8 targets, 80 yards

According to Pro Football Reference's fancy passer rating calculator, that's a 103.7 rating for Prescott throwing to Wilson and Brown. They can play all three receiver positions, too, which keeps the offense's versatility intact.

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