There was perhaps no more surprising unit during the 2021 NFL season than the Dallas Cowboys' defense. One of the worst defenses in the NFL the year prior, the Cowboys emerged as a turnover-forcing machine under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who built his defense around a wildly talented rookie who took the league by storm, won Defensive Rookie of the Year, and emerged as one of the top contenders for Defensive Player of the Year, finishing second in voting behind T.J. Watt.
Micah Parsons finished the season with with 84 tackles, 20 for loss, 13 sacks, and 30 quarterback hits. He did that despite playing only 84% of the team's defensive snaps, and despite getting far fewer opportunities to rush the passer than other top sack-producers in the league. According to Pro Football Focus and TruMedia, Parsons generated a pressure (sack, hit, or hurry) on 22.8% of his pass-rush snaps, the highest mark among the 176 players who rushed the passer at least 200 times. The next-closest player was Trey Hendrickson at 16.6% percent. The distance between Parsons and Hendrickson was the same as the distance between Hendrickson and Dolphins defensive lineman Zach Sieler in 54th place.
Most members of the Cowboys were thrilled that Parsons was able to rack up so many sacks and pressures on so few opportunities. One of the few who was not, was teammate Demarcus Lawrence, who missed 10 games due to injury and played hurt in several others, and finished the season with just three sacks, his lowest total since 2016.
"I let a rookie show me up last year," Lawrence said, in asserting that one of his goals for 2022 is to reclaim the team sack lead, according to the Dallas Morning News. "Shoutout to my boy, Micah (Parsons), but restate my dominance. Let everybody know that I'm coming, how I feel, and the type of respect I'm going to demand when I step on that field."
The young star has some news for his veteran star teammate: It's going to be quite difficult to get the quarterback on the ground more often than Parsons.
"I want D-Law to step up. I want D-Law to be who he is. I'm not taking that away from him. But sorry to tell him, he's never getting that back," Parsons said of Lawrence's comments, per the Morning News. "I want him to get all the enjoyment that he possibly can, feed his head so he can be a 10-sack guy, great. But if 10's the number, I'm going for 20. You've just got to go out there and compete. It's just going to be a race to the quarterback, like it or not. I'm excited."
The Cowboys still plan to use Parsons as both a true linebacker and a pass-rusher, so if Lawrence stays healthy, he should have more opportunities for sacks than his teammate. But as we saw last year, Parsons does not need all that many chances to get after it. He's going to rack up the sacks no matter what.