A defensive player hasn't won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award since Pro Football Hall of Famer and Giants legend Lawrence Taylor. Early in the 2023 season, Cowboys two-time First-Team All-Pro Micah Parsons' and the Dallas defense's smothering performances in the team's 2-0 start has Parsons thinking he can be the first since Taylor.
The Cowboys are only the third team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to score 70 or more points and allow just 10 points or fewer in their first two games of a season after a 40-0 win against the Giants in Week 1 and a 30-10 victory against the Jets in Week 2. The other two such teams are the 1970 Lions and the 2019 Patriots. The Cowboys' 10 sacks, tied for the most in the NFL with the Commanders, are the same amount of points they have allowed this season.
"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."
Parsons 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 this play, but replay review revealed Jets guard Laken Tomlinson was touching him as he recovered the football on the AT&T Stadium turf.
"I've been telling the guys all year: single back, bunch to your side, whether it's in motion or whatever, how they try to portray and make it look, you know, there's always a 70% chance that crack toss," Parsons said. "I instantly read the play and came over the top to see the play. He tried to find a way to get away from me. So I just kind of grabbed the ball because he exposed it. I figured where I grab one and get up, do what I do and get into the end zone. So, you know, that's kind of how it is."
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 so far this season with a 21.8% quarterback pressure rate among players who have rushed the passer at least 40 times.
"He's special," new Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore said of Parsons after Sunday's win. "I have never seen anything like him."
Sunday also marked his 10th career multi-sack game, making Parsons the sixth player since sacks became an officially tracked statistic in 1982 with 10 or more such games in their first three seasons.
"He has really worked his ass off this offseason," Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday, via The Dallas Morning News. "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."
Quinn's take on Parsons, the engine of a defense that has led the NFL in takeaways in each of the last two seasons, does indeed say a lot. The 12th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft co-led the league in quarterback pressures (90) in 2022 with 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, the 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, while his 13.5 sacks last season ranked as the seventh most in the NFL, five behind Bosa's league-leading 18.5. That output earned up DPOY runner-up and First-Team All-Pro honors in 2022.
As a rookie, Parsons still wreaked havoc in opposing backfields, totaling just one-half sack fewer in 2021 (13.0). However, his quarterback pressures total improved significantly from Year 1 when his 67 pressures were tied for the ninth most in the NFL. His 2021 season still ended with First-Team All-Pro honors. Through two games in 2023, Parsons' 12 quarterback pressures are the 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 are tied for the third most in the NFL, trailing only Watt's and Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter's four.
"He [Bosa] knows that I'm coming for him," Parsons Maxx Crosby, too, and those guys are all really good."when told the news of Bosa's five-year, $170 million contract extension. "He even said to my ears like 'I won this year' and he's like, 'I know you'll be coming for next year.' I said 'you're damn right.' It's going to be a good chase [to be the 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year]. Not only [me and Bosa], you also have [Raiders defensive end]
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The one thing the Cowboys defense wasn't great at last season was run defense as they allowed 129.3 rushing yards per game, ranking 22nd in the NFL. Through two games, Dallas has trimmed that number down to 86 rushing yards allowed per game, a figure that was aided by Parsons and company holding Cook and Breece Hall to a combined 16 rushing yards as well as limiting the entire Jets offense to 64 total rushing yards.
"Extremely proud," Parsons said about he and his teammates ability to shut down the Jets' ground game. "I think this season we all committed to saying 'we're going to make these guys pass the ball.' We're going to force them to let us rush and when we come out, we come down and set the tone saying 'you won't run on us' and then we go get our sack, now that's what changes everything. To all the teams with them game plans, c'mon. Run at me. Run at whoever."
That "bring it on" attitude and All-Pro production Parsons provides on a weekly basis left Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the team's owner and GM since 1989, unable to think of a player comparison after Sunday's game. Stunning, considering Jones has been around the NFL for nearly 35 years.
"I have never gotten anything but trouble when I've ever made a comparison with a player, okay," Jones said Sunday. "But I have never seen anybody with his skill, with his motor and his overachieving and how he is planning ahead of how to get better. He is the entire package. No, I can't remember. You can't deny his excellence and inordinate skill level. It forces me to point out how hard he works and how driven he is. He's just literally an overachieving, great player. He's handling every part of it. It was really great to see and everybody sees it."
Jones' belief in him and his own internal thirst to achieve new levels of greatness drives Parsons. Those two factors could power him and the Cowboys to an unprecedented run in 2023.
"I'm just hungry," Parsons said. "To me it don't matter where I am, where I'm at, I'm coming. I don't care if I'm gassed out. My lungs hurt, but mind over matter. I think every time I'm out there, I seize every opportunity unlike some guys that take this opportunity for granted. I take this extremely to the heart. This organization changed my life. So, I'm just trying to give everything I had back to the fans, to Mr Jones and all my teammates."