The Washington Commanders received quite the introduction to Micah Parsons last season. He led a defense that harassed Taylor Heinicke and the offense with two sacks and a fumble returned for a touchdown, helping the Dallas Cowboys claim a 27-20 victory.
Parsons, who was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021, is off to another strong start in Year 2. He leads the team with four sacks and had the second-best pass-rush win-rate in Week 3 (36%).
The Commanders will see Parsons again on Sunday, and they are not taking the reunion lightly.
"I think one of the big things is tremendous athleticism," Ron Rivera said when asked what makes Parsons so good. "I mean he's a special, dynamic athlete."
"Dynamic" is perhaps the most accurate description of Parsons' skill set. The Cowboys have moved Parsons around like a chess piece in order to best utilize his talents. Against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, for example, Parsons lined up as a middle linebacker and as an edge rusher, often on the same drive. Parsons did not get a sack during the Giants 23-16 victory, but he did rack up two quarterback hits.
Part of that movement is the result of the Cowboys trying to get Parsons and the rest of the Cowboys front in one-on-one matchups. So, Rivera said, that means the Commanders' offensive line will need to step up in those moments.
"That's what they do with all the movement, the different formations, different alignments, mugging up in the line," Rivera said. "They're trying to force one-on-ones."
The Commanders are coming off a game in which they allowed nine sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles. As a group, the Cowboys are fourth in pass-rush win-rate (52%), so it is expected that they will try to replicate some of that production.
As far as how to stop Parsons and the Cowboys is concerned, some of that falls on the shoulders of Carson Wentz, who admitted after the 24-8 defeat against the Eagles that some of the sacks were his fault. However, that does not change the fact that the Commanders' offensive line, which was 28th in pass-block win-rate, will need to handle themselves against Parsons.
And Rivera "absolutely" expects the Cowboys to bring challenges up front.
"If you can create one on ones...you know it makes it difficult," Rivera said. "And again, you have to be really sound really solid in your protections."
Here are some other notes from today's practice.
Washington Commanders were wearing their black helmets as they began preparing for their Week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Check out the top photos from Wednesday afternoon. Photos by Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders
-- Charles Leno was a nonparticipant today with a shoulder injury, but Rivera said there was "no concern" with his status.
-- The emotions are understandably high in the locker room this week with Dallas next on the schedule. Rivera said there is not much need for extra motivation. "It's the Cowboys."
"That's why more so than anything else. That's traditionally been one of the NFC East rivals. There's a long history between them, and we look forward to the opportunity to play them."
-- Rivera said that he would like to give the running game more of a shot to impact games, which should help create opportunities in play action scenarios.
"That slows things down. When you can do that, that discourages some of these guys pinning their ears back and just going, so we've gotta be able to when the run's called to block it up, make sure we hit those holes, hit those creases because if you don't, you're not having success. You do become one-dimensional, and we've seen it."
-- It took a while for the Commanders to get Terry McLaurin involved in the offense against the Eagles with his first target coming in the second quarter. Wentz said that the culmination of several factors, the most notable being a lack of execution on plays that put him in the best situations.
"I'm very confident we will get him and the other guys involved earlier, especially if we can execute a little bit better early on, that would help. But yeah, I don't think it's anything that we want to panic about or force the issue on because I know he'll get his."
-- With Wes Schweitzer in the concussion protocol, it is likely that Nick Martin, who has been on the team for two weeks, will be the starting center. Martin has not spent much time in Washington, but he does have some experience with Wentz. It goes all the way back to the 2016 Senior Bowl, when Martin was Wentz's center.
"He's a guy that's been around. He understands it. He's very locked in with the calls and everything, so I don't think anybody has any doubts that he'll be ready to go. I'm excited for him to get a chance."