FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys two-time First-Team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons is one of the NFL's best players and most fascinating interviews. This past offseason, he wasn't afraid to declare that the 2023 Cowboys defense ever along with the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom and Ray Lewis' Baltimore Ravens defenses. Parsons also didn't shy away from comparing himself to two of the best linebackers in NFL history: .
Through two games in 2023, Parsons has backed up the talk with his play. The Dallas defense leads the NFL in the following metrics: points allowed (10), takeaways (seven), total yards per game allowed (193.0), yards per play allowed (3.5), red zone touchdown percentage allowed (zero percent), sacks (10, tied with the Commanders), quarterback pressure rate (63.6%) and passer rating allowed (34.2). His 12 quarterback pressures (third-most in the league behind Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson's and Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt's 13) and his three sacks, which are tied for the third most in the NFL, trail only Wat and Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (4 each) after Week 2.
"He has really worked his ass off this offseason," Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday.
"He's faster. His hands are better. His rushing is better. …He's definitely playing better than he ever has, which is saying a lot."
Parsons agreed with his defensive coordinator's assessment.
"Yeah, I do feel better in every aspect," Parsons said Wednesday. "How I'm doing, how I'm eating, how I'm looking. You know, that's just the work I put in and the results are finally starting to show. It goes to show, if you put in the work, you commit and you stay consistent, great things can happen."
One of the drivers in his work and on-field ferocity in 2023 is embracing being the Cowboys defense's "lion." The Penn State Nittany Lion alum adopted the animal as his 2023 persona back in offseason workouts and training camp.
"I adapted to it," Parsons said. "I feel like some things you just got to embrace. I feel like my energy and positivity, the things that I'm trying to bring into the guys and finding their own ego and finding themselves. I know I joke around a lot about it. I really like it. That's just who I am and who I want to be. When I get my chance to talk in front of the room, I talk about the lion hunting and the preciseness and how methodical it has to be. And how lions have to work as a team to get what they need and so they can feed their family. I said 'if you look at this, this is what we are doing. We are out here trying to hunt this guy and trying to kill these people so we can feed our families. That's our why.' No matter if it's nature or in life, everyone has their why.
"Every week we get a chance to go out there and fight for ours. I said we got to be a pack of Lions and [defensive end Dante Fowler] is a jaguar. And [2023 first-round pick defensive tackle] Mazi [Smith] said he's a Orca [whale] now because I brought up the Orca. Everyone is finding their own identity and who they want to be. So it's pretty cool. And that's why I do it."
Parsons, along with some help from the Dallas Zoo, put together what may have been his most dominant all-around outing in the Cowboys' defensive deconstruction of the Jets. He finished with two sacks, six quarterback pressures, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble on Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook and a fumble recovery. Parsons also almost came away with a touchdown on that play, but replay review revealed Jets guard Laken Tomlinson was touching him as he recovered the football on the AT&T Stadium turf.
"There are a couple guys in the league that the whole game plan revolves around them: [Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year] Aaron Donald for sure, Micah Parsons for sure and then maybe one or two other guys," New York Jets quarterback and four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers said on "The Pat McAfee Show" on Friday. "You always want to have the slide going to him or a [running] back checking on him or something because he is so dynamic. It doesn't matter who is going against, he [Parsons] is an elite, elite player. However what these elite coordinators have done in LA and Dan Quinn in Dallas is they find way to single him up... last year he was playing off the ball at times [at inside linebacker]. I felt like that was almost easier for us to get the slide on him and have more hands on him. This year, he seems to be playing on the line of scrimmage the entire time and they move him around. Right side, left side. Three-technique, over the center. He is such a dynamic guy in a short space. He can make a guy miss... he is a special, special player. The entire plan when we [the Green Bay Packers] played him last year was to stop him. We frustrated him a little bit. I'm sure the entire plan last week was to stop him, and he made a couple plays. A lot of plays. He's a different type of player.... Good football team [the Dallas Cowboys]."
To Rodgers' point, Parsons has become more of a traditional pass-rusher, lining up at a much higher rate along the defensive line over the last two seasons.
Micah Parsons career defensive snap alignment
*Data according to Pro Football Focus
His explosion off the line of scrimmage (0.57 seconds per pass rush) on Sunday against the Jets when rushing the passer ranked as the quickest in the NFL for a single game played since the start of the 2022 season. Parsons leads the NFL with a 21.8% quarterback pressure rate among players who have rushed the passer at least 40 times through Week 2.
"From zero to 60 he goes fast, and that's the unique part about him," Quinn said. "His short area quickness, the ability to stop and start quickly… His acceleration, that is one of his superpowers. It's on full display when we blitz, when we run, when we chase, you can feel that energy coming at you."
On his first sack of Wilson, Parsons arrived at the quarterback so fast he was able to swiftly take him to the ground and immediately go into his new signature celebration, the lion crawl.
The 24-year-old has become so serious about being a lion that he has even crawled around and growled at starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the longest-tenured quarterback with the same team in the NFL.
"Yeah, I was practicing it in camp when I was just joking around with Dak, growling at him and crawling at him," Parsons said. "Someone said you should really do that. I was like, 'why don't I just try it out?' Now people love the crawl. So I'm trying to find a name for it. So if y'all got anything just help me out and we're gonna name it something. I might give you one percent."
His efforts in Week 2 led to him being named the, an award he said was nice, but he feels .
"When I talk about defensive player of the year, I don't look at the subject of the award," Parsons said after Sunday's game. "I look at the subject and say 'I want to be the best player in the NFL.' So whatever comes with that, I don't think just qualify myself as just a defensive player. I think I'm a most valuable player."
The confidence Parsons exudes comes from his faith in his teammates and the work put in by a defense that led the NFL in takeaways in both 2021 and 2022. That accomplishment put this group in an exclusive club with the the 1972-1974 Pittsburgh Steelers "Iron Curtain" defenses as the only units to lead the NFL in takeaways in consecutive seasons.
"I just think it's the confidence," Parsons said when asked why the Dallas defense operates with such swagger on and off the field. "Everybody knew who we had coming in. I just think it started with our best players, and we're pushing each other. I didn't shy from it either. Coming in, I said, 'I hope everybody's ready to work. I hope everyone is ready to take this thing to another level. Because that's where I want to go.' And if you want to go there, you've got to bring everyone around you with you. I think our leaders did a great job of just bringing everyone on the same level as us and getting that room prepared. We don't want it to just be, 'Oh, we've got 11 guys who's ready to go to war.' In the Spartan 300 movie, they had 300 men and they're still grinding. They're saying, 'All of us, we're going to anchor down and we're going to fight and we're going to kill.' That's how we feel about every guy on our roster."
To Parsons' point, Quinn -- the Cowboys defensive coordinator since 2021 -- noticed a palpable uptick in player-to-player leadership or coaching this season.
"I most definitely did [see that]," Quinn said. "It probably started in the offseason when we were wanting to make sure who we wanted to be, so every time our friends and family watched us play they would say 'Man, you played fast, you played tough and you tried to out-hit them.' So when they came to practice or came to a game, they would leave saying that. That didn't mean one time. That's the hard part to make sure every time we get it on in this facet. We make sure we're hungry when we play. When we don't see that, we try to make sure we point that out to one another. That's what has made it more fun with the leadership coming from within. It's a competition to say who is going to get the first takeaway? Who gets the first big hit? Those are things that push player to player. That's what I have seen."
More often than not, it's Parsons coming away with the game's first sack or big play like he did in Week 2 against the Jets.
"He's definitely one of the straws [that stirs the Cowboys defense's proverbial drink], there's no doubt about that," Quinn said of Parsons. "He is so unique in the way that he plays. He is off the ball, he is inside, he is outside, so his uniqueness allows us to do things. But without some of our other players, we wouldn't be able to do that without other people being able to move and play other spots. It is part of the fun, and you haven't seen it all yet for sure. We're just hopefully getting started on how we are going to feature everybody. He is a lot of fun to coach because he is definitely up for whatever challenge we throw at him. We want him to play corner, he'll say 'I'll do that.' He wants to block on punt and be on special teams. He. He is a true competitor at his core."
"He's doing an outstanding job," Lawrence said Wednesday. "I'm so proud of him and so proud of his growth. He's going to continue to grow. Seeing him play linebacker in college and then getting here and having two years of defensive end under his belt, you know how smart he is at adjusting. His speed is off the charts, so you're not stopping that. He definitely is a player that we need, and I'm so happy he is with us."