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Does Cowboys' Parsons Have a New Rival?

The NFC East has been the personal playground for Cowboys LB Micah Parsons for the last year and a half. He has dominated games like no other defender in recent memory. So much so that he is likely to add a Defensive Player of the Year trophy to his case very soon.

12 total tackles, 3 TFL’s, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and a touchdown. That got my attention this week and no, that’s not LB Micah Parson’s stat line. It reflects the breakout game of Giants first round pick LB Kayvon Thibodeaux vs the Washington Commanders this past week. He was everywhere for one night.

Thibodeaux has shown flashes of brilliance while also showing up less than those in the witness protection program at other times. His most recent game, in what was really a playoff game last week, was the highlight of his young career- to date.

It sent me to the film room to dig a bit deeper on both these players and make some comparisons. Both are similar in size, speed and strength so I tried to look beyond the obvious. What I found was a difference in schemes, usages and even when they get subbed for, but the similarities were what will make this into a fun rivalry to follow over the next however many years.

Parsons has a year under his belt in development, and comfort in a scheme. He seems to read and diagnose with a more confident patience therefore he has very few false steps or wasted movements and reactions. The speed of the game is still a bit much for Thibodeaux to process and he runs around without a purpose at times which causes him to tire sooner and expend more effort to recover than a more purposeful Parsons. That will likely be rectified with reps and experience.

They are both being used as edge rushers in sub packages but in actuality Thibodeaux is also aligned behind the LOS some and actually dropped in coverage 5 times vs the Commanders. I don’t really think that fits his skill set but it does make offenses have to adjust to his alignment and adjust protections accordingly. Parson’s has evolved (at least last week) into playing on the edge 100% and is being used, in what I would call- a lazy scheme and game plan deployment without innovation, which might be an indictor why the Cowboys defense has not been as fierce or as productive as it was earlier in the season. The Jaguars had zero trouble identifying and locating Parsons on each snap last week. Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn’s X’s and O’s may have gotten a bit stale- IMO. When Parson’s was most effective pressuring the passer, he was coming from varied positions and alignments.

I think Parsons is slightly more versatile as an athlete but not unless the scheme allows. One of the knocks on him at Penn State was his alignment on the second level and not pressing the edge of the line of scrimmage enough. A happy medium is probably the best road to more consistent production. Offenses should have to identify his location on every snap. Fans in the front row could have carried out that task last week.

Both players play the run better as pursuit players than as point of attack edge setters. They both like to jump around blocks vs downhill runs which is problematic to say the least. The motor that they possess allows them to chase with veracity and that makes them special. Thibodeaux was criticized in college for not playing hard on a consistent basis but even though he needs to get in better shape and improve his stamina (IMO) at the NFL level, he seems to play with plenty of energy and is engaged consistently.

Parsons rests by coming out of the game for a series or two each half, Thibodeaux comes off whenever he gets tired, which seems often when you watch the tape. Maybe too often for my liking.

Parsons is still the most sudden and explosive mover at his position in the league and when you couple that with games and predetermined routes to the passer he is unmatched. He plays FASTER when he doesn’t have to come up with an individual rush plan on his own but rather the defensive call does it for him. Thibodeaux might have more individual rush skills and a more versatile pass rush package when deployed in a straight four-man rush package but the game has not slowed down for him yet and he is all over the place with technique and diagnosing because of it.

These two are both dynamic athletes and can wreck a game for the offense. If used correctly they will be the forefront of many offensive game plan meetings and scheme. They are fun to watch on tape and both should be great players for many seasons, if they can stay healthy. It will be a fun rivalry to watch play out twice a year in the NFC East. I’m not ready to say Kayvon is there yet, but if he can duplicate his game vs the Dolphins from last week, he will be nipping on superman’s cape very soon.

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