FRISCO, Texas— back with three quick topics about the Dallas Cowboys following Sunday’s 20-17 bounce-back win over the Cincinnati Bengals that, as Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said, provided a nice “tonic” for their Week 1 struggles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
- Micah Parsons
- Noah Brown
- Defense takeaways
Micah Parsons officially attained national superstar status when CBS seemed to have had a camera devoted to his every move during Sunday’s Cowboys-Bengals broadcast.
Rightly so. The All-Pro linebacker/defensive end was a massive factor in the Cowboys holding the Bengals’ dynamic offense to a single touchdown, 254 total yards and only 6 of 17 third down conversions. With two of Dallas’ six sacks on Joe Burrow, Parsons became just the sixth player since 1982 — when sacks became an official statistic — with at least five multi-sack games in his first 20 career appearances.
He also was credited with five quarterback hits by the NFL and eight total pressures by Pro Football Focus. What’s even more impressive: for the most part, in this particular matchup, the Bengals had a pretty good idea where he’d be lining up.
You can argue this was Parsons’ best performance in a Cowboys uniform yet, given the defense’s urgency to raise their game for a depleted Dallas offense and the way he created splash opportunities for others on the line.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at his 59 total snaps by my unofficial eye:
- By my count, Parsons lined up on the left edge 34 times, including the first 16 snaps of the game, either in run support or as a rusher against former teammate La’el Collins. (It’s clearly a matchup the Cowboys wanted.) He lined up on the right edge for 21 snaps opposite Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams.
- Let’s just say Parsons was going forward a lot more than backward in Week 2. He only dropped into coverage twice, and not until three and a half minutes had gone by in the third quarter. He also blitzed the middle from the linebacker spot twice. Besides those snaps, he was purely an edge player against Cincinnati.
- Both Parsons’ sacks came in single coverage. On the first sack, he initially shoved his way past Collins, then gave a terrific second effort to wrap up Burrow after Collins dove to push him out of the play. The second sack was all speed, breezing past Williams to the outside.
- The Bengals did give Parsons a fair share of attention. By my count, they had a tight end, running back or extra offensive lineman chipping or blocking him for 18 snaps. On Collins’ first of two false starts, three extra guys were camped out to his side.
- Give Parsons an assist on at least two more Cowboys sacks. On Dorance Armstrong’s second sack, Parsons pushed Bengals center Ted Karras into the backfield, giving Burrow nowhere to step up. He collapsed the pocket again on Leighton Vander Esch’s sack with a successful spin move to the inside against Collins.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard to watch that game and say, “Yeah, move Micah back to linebacker.”
But defensive coordinator Dan Quinn reiterated Monday that the Cowboys still want to maximize Parsons’ “ability to be not always where you’re supposed to be” — meaning his versatility on or off the line of scrimmage is a gift that keeps defenses guessing.
“I think really just depends on the matchup with how we want to go feature,” Quinn said. “With the firepower they had (on offense), it seemed like that was the best way to go this last game.”
Safe to say it worked out pretty well.
Nobody was more excited for wide receiver Noah Brown’s first career touchdown than offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
It’s no surprise that Moore devised a game plan that played well to backup quarterback Cooper Rush’s strengths. Before he got into coaching, Moore and Rush were teammates in the Cowboys’ quarterback room during Rush’s 2017 rookie season.
But remember, Moore also threw passes to Noah Brown that season, too. Brown was a rookie seventh-round pick in 2017, Moore’s final year as a quarterback on the Cowboys’ roster.
Moore has seen Brown develop into a well-rounded receiver who just posted a career-high 91 yards and a TD when the offense absolutely needed that type of production without franchise quarterback Dak Prescott (thumb) in the lineup. Brown looked leaner and quicker in training camp, and it has carried over to the regular season.
“I would certainly say he has adjusted his body. He came into the league as a larger body that did a tremendous job in the run game for us,” Moore said. “He had his role. He did all the special teams stuff, and he kind of found a couple pass opportunities here and there as kind of a changeup.
“As the years have gone on, he’s become a little bit more (in) the pass game, really starting last year and then transitioning fully into this year. He’s just a normal, every-down receiver. He’s not in a ‘role. ‘ He’s not a ‘package’ guy. He’s playing receiver. You can just see him on the contested catch opportunities where Coop threw a couple to him this past day. Throw contested catches at him, get him opportunities, and he’s made plays with it. “
I have no idea…
how many takeaways the defense will get this season, but if last year is any guide, they won’t be stuck on one for long.
It’s impressive enough that Tom Brady and Burrow and were held to one touchdown each in these first two games. But there’s another level that the defense can reach, and that’s by creating extra possessions for the offense.
Currently, the Cowboys are tied for the second-fewest takeaways in the NFL with one (safety Donovan Wilson’s interception on Brady). Dante Fowler Jr.’s sack-strip on Burrow in the second quarter almost gave them another one.
The Cowboys led the league with 34 forced turnovers last year. They only played four games without a takeaway. They only played five games without multiple takeaways.
Quinn was pleased with the defense’s effort, tackling and toughness through two games. The takeaways will continue to be a focus, though.
“I think there’s another place where we can go,” Quinn said. “I know we will work our ass off to get there, much like the guys did this week.”