In its essence, the New England Patriots’ approach to playing defense is quite simple: get the opponent out of its comfort zone by trying to take away what he does best. Whether’s it focusing on a No. 1 wide receiver or stopping the run, they want to make you play left-handed.
Heading into the upcoming game with the Dallas Cowboys, the Patriots would be smart to employ a similar tactic on both sides of the ball. The Dallas defense, after all, features a player with. a similar game-wrecking potential as a top-flight pass catcher or elite running back: Micah Parsons.
Now in his third year in the NFL, Parsons has already proven himself as one of the best defenders in football. The 12th overall selection in the 2021 draft, he has voted first-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons and has already registered a combined 31.5 sacks in 39 regular season and playoff games.
The Patriots know all this, and they are aware that Parsons commands special attention.
“He’s the best player that we’ve gone against so far,” said quarterback Mac Jones this week.
Jones is not the only prominent member of the Patriots organization to throw superlatives at Parsons this week. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, for example, called him a top-five player in the league regardless of position.
“He’s a great football player,” O’Brien added. “Dan Quinn does a good job of using him in a lot of different areas, and it just jumps out to you on film. You have to do a great job of understanding what they’re trying to do with him and where he is. But, at the end of the day, there are going to be some battles that you’re going to have to fight one-on-one. You can’t always double him, you can’t always run away from him, because they do a lot of different things with him. So, we have to be aware of him on every single play.”
Head coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, even went so far as to compare his athletic abilities to none other than the great Lawrence Taylor. And while he later added that he would “not [be] putting anybody ahead of Lawrence Taylor,” the compliment in itself is a big one coming from noted Taylor fan Belichick.
One thing Belichick and O’Brien both mentioned, is that the Patriots need to be able to identify where Parsons lines up on any given down. His numbers, after all, are not just the result of his rare physical talent but also of how he is being used by Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
The 24-year-old is a true jack of all trades, playing both on and off the ball and attacking the pocket from various alignments all over the front seven. For David Andrews, his versatility is one of Parsons’ defining traits as well as a challenge for the offense to defend.
“There are so many good pass rushers in the league, but I think he’s probably one of the most versatile of what he can do off the ball at different positions, things like that,” the Patriots’ starting center said.
“He can just do a lot. I know he played more off the ball when we played them in the past, and maybe even last year a little bit, too. But he’s shown he’s been effective at all positions. He’s a great player. He does a lot of good things. He plays really hard, plays with great effort. He’s got a great get-off, explosive. He’s got everything you would want in a defensive player.”
Parsons’ abilities have earned him plenty of respect, not just within the Patriots’ offense. Matthew Judon, himself a Pro Bowl edge capable of wearing multiple hats, also spoke highly of his Dallas counterpart this week — starting with the position assigned to him.
“He’s been tearing it up ever since he got to the league, and I think we’ll be disrespectful if we just call him a pass rusher. He’s able to do anything and everything you ask him to do,” Judon said.
“And he’s willing, he’ll do everything at 100 miles per hour. You say that about people and they kind of luck into plays, but with him there is no luck about it. He has fortune on his side, but he plays with a motor only a few people have in this league. He’s definitely one of them. I’m a big fan.”
On Sunday, Judon and the Patriots will get to see Parsons first-hand — the first time going up against him since his 2021 rookie campaign. That day, the Cowboys won in overtime but New England was able to limit his impact.
Parsons, who for the first time in his career played 100 percent of defensive snaps back then, registered six tackles but no sacks or turnovers. Holding him to a similar output this Sunday would be a success for the Patriots, and go a long way toward leaving Arlington with a victory.