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Science Lab: Micah Parsons Best When Uncaged


Patrik [No C] Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys digital media group as a staff writer and media personality in July 2022, having professionally covered the NFL and, more specifically, the Cowboys since 2007.

He most recently did so for CBS Sports by way of 247Sports, where he also spent time delving into collegiate recruiting as well – ultimately becoming well-known for his level of unapologetic objectivity labeled by many as his own unique brand of football "science".

Welcome to "The Science Lab", a place where football facts and in-depth analysis always triumph over feelings.

FRISCO, Texas - It's always better to be great at one thing than it is to be good at several, but when you're great at several it's always better to not settle for being great at just one. Such is the enigma draped over the shoulder pads of Micah Parsons, a lethal weapon at multiple positions - the likes of which even Danny Glover and Mel Gibson couldn't compete with.

Yet there are those outside of the organization hellbent on seeing him relegated to exclusive duties as an edge rusher, their argument being he'd somehow be better if he was asked to do just the one thing.

The glaring problem with this belief is, if done, it would have the countereffect of making Parsons infinitely more predictable schematically and that's to the benefit of opposing defensive coordinators and their quarterbacks. So while there's logic in thinking, "Hey! If he can get 11 sacks in a season doing double duty, he'd get twice as many if you remove half of his assignment!" … that's not how this works.

It's not how any of this works.

The 2021 Butkus Award winner is currently on pace to deliver an NFL record 28 sacks in 2022 to go along with 59.5 quarterback hits and 127.5 quarterback pressures - numbers he likely won't achieve (but, I mean, it feels very not smart to say it's impossible when speaking about a generational talent like Parsons) but it goes to the overarching point:

Trying to fix what isn't broken will often break it.

The fact is things like potential impact of a position/scheme change can't be calculated or quantified in the vacuum of your living room, because there are a laundry list of other variables the come into play the instant you pull the trigger on that Dyson - creating a butterfly effect that would likely siphon a chunk of Parsons' effectiveness instead of increasing it exponentially.

This is truly not addition by subtraction, but rather subtraction by subtraction, and it would multiply the ease of operation for those who no longer must ask themselves "Where's Waldo?" on a weekly basis.

Waldo would only be in one of two places instead of one of five, so scheme accordingly.

Now, there's something to admittedly be said for how much personnel matters in this equation, because having a simpler blueprint to draw against Parsons doesn't inherently mean you have the tools to draw it up.

Some teams simply have a box of Crayola and, in that case, it really doesn't matter where you put Parsons on the field because he's going to turn them into a melted pile of Burnt Sienna.

But that then circles us back to my original point: it's becoming quite evident that, much akin to Aaron Donald, it's likely no one has the tools to keep Parsons at bay; and that's in his current capacity as both a linebacker and an edge rusher in varying, unpredictable degrees, so don't minimize the number of ways he can wreck an opponent's game.

Just ask Daniel Jones and Brian Daboll if they'd prefer to know ahead of time where Parsons will line up at MetLife Stadium on Monday.

Spoiler: They most certainly would.

Doing so would probably make sense if the Cowboys couldn't get a pass rush without putting Parsons on defensive line full-time, but considering Dallas sacked Joe Burrow a total of six times (Parsons owned two of them) tells you they can get pressure from others as well.

And in times when you do need that added rush in-game, send him forward, but that's an adaptation that's much more challenging to account for on the fly than a team having no pregame guesswork at all. Dorance Armstrong had a career-high two sacks himself against the Bengals, with Dante Fowler and Leighton Vander Esch adding to the tally as well, so even with Tarell Basham on injured reserve for a few weeks, the hounds are unleashed.

Fowler had his best game of his young season in a Cowboys uniform, and there's also and obviously something to be said for All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, who has been known to contribute to that category and, arguably more importantly, with pressures that create sacks and TFLs (tackles for loss) by other players across the defensive front.

The addition of rookie second-round pick Sam Williams also factors into this discussion in the wake of losing Randy Gregory to free agency (one-third of a triumvirate offseason salve on the right edge that includes the signing of Fowler and re-signing of Armstrong).

It's all working very, very well for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in that he not only has the talent and depth on his side of the ball to dominate and decide entire games, but also the rightful unwillingness to commit Parsons to either linebacker or edge rusher for anything more than one game at a time.

The First-Team All-Pro and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year split duties in Week 1 (sacking Tom Brady twice) to the tune of roughly 60/40 before taking to the edge for nearly the entirety of his snaps in Week 2 (sacking Joe Burrow twice), which swiftly disproves the theory that making him a full-time edge rusher would somehow increase his sack numbers exponentially.

His number of pressures per game were nearly the same as well (he's averaging 7.5 over the first two outings), and the beauty is this type of consistency is being achieved without having to tip the hand weekly as to where Parsons will line up.

Bottom line? Lions are at their best when allowed to roam and hunt, not when you throw them in a cage.

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