For years, the Los Angeles Rams have usually had the advantage at interior pass rush going into every game. Finally, Micah Parsons, who grew up in Pennsylvania about three hours from Aaron Donald’s stomping grounds in Pittsburgh, may be the pass rushing heir apparent to the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Parsons plays a different position and his sacks come from everywhere (watch all of his 2021 sacks right here), but the Dallas Cowboys 23-year-old star linebacker has had an early-career impact on the league maybe like nobody since Donald.
Nobody plays defensive tackle like Donald. Nobody rushes the pass at linebacker like Parsons.
Seven years after Donald won Defensive Rookie of the Year, Parsons took home the award in 2021, as well as first-team All-Pro, the Pro Bowl, and finishing second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He finished with 84 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 30 QB hits, 13 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Parsons can attack the quarterback off right tackle, off left tackle, up the middle; he can beat offensive linemen with power, with speed, with elite finishing moves; he can close in on a quarterback to find a sack where no sack seemed to be possible a second earlier.
With four sacks in his first two games this season, it’s a wonder how “character concerns” could have dropped Parsons to the 12th pick in the draft out of Penn State last year. He leads every player from the 2021 NFL Draft in Pro-Football-Reference’s adjusted-value metric, ranking well ahead of Rashawn Slater, Ja’Marr Chase, and DeVonta Smith.
And now he’s facing a Rams offensive line in peril.
With the news that Coleman Shelton is out 4-6 weeks, L.A.’s offensive line is down to third-string center Jeremiah Kolone. If David Edwards doesn’t return from the concussion protocol, it will be Bobby Evans at left guard again. Edwards was limited at practice on Wednesday. With Shelton moved over to center, Tremayne Anchrum became the new starter at right guard.
But with Anchrum on IR now, that means that A.J. Jackson is also the third-string option.
Parsons has made quite a few highlight plays off of right tackle, but Sunday’s game against the Rams may provide him with no excuse but to attack Matthew Stafford up the middle. Stafford was sacked seven times by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday.
Held to no sacks and no QB hits against Washington in Week 4, Parsons is looking to get back on track again. So is Donald.
Donald continues to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL. He’s also one of the most double and triple-teamed.
Double team rate at defensive tackle (x) by pass rush win rate at defensive tackle (y), updated through Week 3.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 29, 2022
-Even after a bit of a down week, Aaron Donald is still aaaaallllll alone.
-Curious to see if that larger second tier continues. Has been small group in past. pic.twitter.com/egic9D4yLi
But Donald hasn’t had much help this season and the Rams only have seven sacks in four games; only three teams have fewer. The Rams’ pressure rate of 10.6% is last in the NFL by a wide margin. Dallas has done a good job of protecting quarterback Cooper Rush, even with Tyron Smith out from the start of the season.
Backup rookie left tackle Tyler Smith has been one of the Cowboys’ best offensive players this season.
Donald has two sacks, Bobby Wagner has two sacks, while Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, and Decobie Durant each have one. Leonard Floyd has never been a consistent pass rusher for L.A. and that has continued through 2022. He has no sacks, three QB hits, and one tackle for a loss.
Terrell Lewis does have an interception, but only two pressures over 117 total snaps. Lewis is in his third NFL season.
A’Shawn Robinson has one pressure, Greg Gaines has one pressure, both of which are hurries. There just has not been any pressure coming from anywhere, including Donald because of how offenses have been able to focus all of their efforts on him. Donald leads the team with five pressures.
Parsons has 12 pressures, former Ram Dante Fowler has nine pressures, while DeMarcus Lawrence, Donovan Wilson, and Dorance Armstrong each have six. That’s five Dallas players who have more pressures than anyone on the Rams.
Somehow the Rams will need to keep Parsons off of Matthew Stafford on Sunday. Or Donald’s heir apparent will be catching up to him that much sooner.