Can the New York Jets contain Micah Parsons?
Micah Parsons is an alien. In just 34 career games, the Dallas Cowboys’ young superstar has 27.5 sacks, 152 total tackles, 163 total pressures, 58 quarterback hits, 34 tackles for loss, six passes defended, six forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Still only 24 years old, Parsons finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting in each of his first two seasons.
Parsons wrecked the New York Giants in Dallas’ season-opening 40-0 victory at MetLife Stadium. The Penn State product picked up six pressures on just 26 pass-rush snaps (23.1% pressure rate), including his first sack of the year.
His next target: The Aaron Rodgers-less New York Jets.
The Jets’ first game without Rodgers would be a daunting challenge no matter who they went up against, but it can be argued that Parsons and the Cowboys are the worst possible opponent New York could have run into in this predicament.
Dallas’ defense already led the NFL in pressure rate last season at 40.9%, per NFL Next Gen Stats, and they only looked more dominant against the Giants in Week 1. The Cowboys led the NFL with a staggering 62.2% pressure rate. They also led the league with seven sacks.
Now, Zach Wilson has to face this terrifying defense in his first start of the season – on the road, no less.
If the Jets are going to thwart this Cowboys pass rush and give Wilson a chance to succeed, it all begins with stopping Parsons.
But the thing is, I’m not sure you can ever truly “stop” Parsons. You can only hope to contain him.
Including the playoffs, Parsons played 19 games in 2022. In 17 of them, he recorded a pressure rate that was higher than the league average for edge rushers (10.8%). There were only two games all year in which Parsons pressured the quarterback less consistently than the league-average edge rusher.
I looked closer at those two games to see if I could discover any particular secrets the Jets could steal to try and stop Parsons. While I did find one common theme between the two games, it’s not as if those teams truly “stopped” Parsons using this strategy.
Essentially, this is the only noticeable thing those teams did to stop Parsons: Get the ball out very quickly. It seems to be the only way the Jets can prevent Parsons from causing havoc.
In Week 4, Parsons had three pressures on 38 pass-rush snaps against the Washington Commanders, a pressure rate of 7.9%. This was mostly because Parsons hardly ever got enough time to get home. Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz averaged 2.42 seconds from snap to throw, ranking fifth-fastest in the NFL that week.
The story was the same in Week 14. Parsons had one pressure on 21 pass-rush snaps against the Houston Texans, a pressure rate of 4.8%. Texans quarterback Davis Mills averaged 2.53 seconds from snap to throw, ranking fourth-fastest that week.
Between the two games, only 27 of Parsons’ 59 pass-rush snaps were considered “true pass sets” (45.8%). This means that, on more than half of Parsons’ pass-rush snaps, the opponent used something such as a quick pass, screen, or play action to prevent the pass rushers from having a true opportunity to reach the quarterback. This is a much lower rate than what Parsons usually saw. In all other games, 53.1% of Parsons’ pass-rush snaps were true pass sets.
Neither team really “stopped” Parsons. All they did was restrict their offense to the quick game so the pass rush couldn’t get home.
While this strategy accomplishes the goal of silencing Parsons, it’s fair to wonder whether it actually helps you win the game in the long run.
In both instances, the quick-release strategy didn’t really work out. Despite quieting Parsons, both teams still lost the game and struggled offensively.
Washington passed for 155 yards and turned the ball over twice in a 25-10 loss. Carson Wentz had what amounted to his second-lowest passer rating of the season (56.6).
Houston passed for 213 yards and turned the ball over twice in a 27-23 loss. The 23-point total isn’t quite as good as it seems since the Texans got the ball inside of Dallas’ 30-yard line on both of their touchdowns – they only scored three field goals on 10 drives that started on their own side of the field.
Neither Washington nor Houston had an impressive offensive roster last season, so perhaps they aren’t the most ideal models to measure the effectiveness of this strategy. Still, it seems that allowing Parsons and the Cowboys to scare you into using a very limited offensive gameplan might not be the best strategy to beat them.
In fact, the Cowboys’ worst defensive performances came in games where Parsons absolutely dominated.
Based on total offensive yardage, Dallas’ two worst defensive games came against the Jaguars (Week 15, 503 yards) and at home against the Eagles (Week 16, 442 yards) – and it’s worth noting Gardner Minshew was under center for the Eagles game.
Parsons was an animal in both contests. Against Jacksonville, he had 12 pressures, which remains his career-high to date. Against Philadelphia, he had eight pressures, tied for his third-best total in the 2022 regular season.
Neither the Jaguars nor the Eagles went with an overly conservative gameplan to contain Parsons and the Cowboys’ pass rush. Across these two games, 48 of Parsons’ 82 pass-rush snaps were true pass sets, a whopping 58.5%. While both teams leaned to the quicker side with their release time, they weren’t far off from the league average – Trevor Lawrence averaged 2.62 seconds (11th of 33) and Minshew averaged 2.76 seconds (14th of 34).
The Jaguars and Eagles utilized fearless gameplans. They trusted their quarterbacks to hold up and make big plays in spite of Dallas’ defensive line. And that’s exactly what both passers did. Dallas’ pass rush did plenty of damage, but the quarterbacks stood tall and delivered big plays in the face of the pressure, not allowing themselves to be intimidated into an overly safe approach.
Lawrence attempted 42 passes and threw for 318 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception as he led Jacksonville’s offense to 34 points – the most allowed by Dallas in 2022. Minshew attempted 40 passes and threw for 355 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions as the Eagles offense scored 27 points – the second-most allowed by Dallas at home in 2022.
This creates a dilemma for Nathaniel Hackett and the Jets as they gameplan for Dallas. Which approach should they utilize?
Despite the lack of overall success for teams that used a quick-game strategy against Dallas, should the Jets use it anyway to protect Wilson and hope they can grind out a win on the strength of their defense? Or do they risk it and try to block the Cowboys straight-up in hopes of raising their offensive ceiling?
Some teams might be able to pull off the latter strategy. But for this Jets team, playing it conservatively is most likely the right call.
No, it didn’t work for the Commanders and Texans last year, but the Jets are far more talented than those teams on both sides of the field. If they get the ball out quickly and keep Wilson protected, the Jets have the talent to defeat Dallas on the strength of their run game, defense, and special teams.
The worst thing that can happen to the Jets in Dallas is to allow Parsons and the Cowboys to wreck the offensive line and force Wilson into turnovers. New York doesn’t have the aerial firepower to dig themselves out of a hole in the way that a team like Jacksonville or Philadelphia does.
For that reason, they cannot take the risk of letting Parsons go to town in exchange for raising their offensive ceiling. The Jets have to keep Parsons quiet and hope they can win on the strength of other factors despite an uber-safe offensive gameplan.
Perhaps there will come a time later in the season when Wilson has the confidence to carry the offense with his arm. For now, though, as Wilson eases back into the starting role, the Jets would be wise to play it safe.
It’s a long season. The Jets cannot afford for Wilson to have his confidence drained so early in the year. A heavily pressured, mistake-filled game in his first start could cause him to develop bad habits that persist throughout the season. Ideally, the Jets let Wilson slowly build his confidence as the season progresses.
The best way to accomplish that goal on Sunday will be to ensure No. 11 stays out of Wilson’s face – whatever it takes.
Getting the ball out quickly will be an essential key for the Jets in Dallas.