The Dallas Cowboys have exceeded expectations on defense all year, so much so in week 8 that they were able to win on the road with Cooper Rush at quarterback – holding the Vikings to just an opening drive touchdown and three field goals. Rookie Micah Parsons played a huge role in this, putting out his best game of the season while playing mostly at linebacker.
The Cowboys have toggled Parsons' position across the front seven since the start of offseason practices, but may have found a way to take some of the pressure off their 12th overall pick on Sunday night thanks to veteran Jayron Kearse. ESPN's Ryan Clark noted on NFL Live that Kearse was the “green dot” – or defensive play caller – against the Vikings.
The Vikings picked on Kearse in pass coverage on their lone touchdown drive, but after this the defense he reportedly called settled down. With Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, and now Kelvin Joseph all healthy, Kearse has remained on the field as a clear veteran presence the Cowboys can rely on. Though Parsons has handled everything thrown at him better than any rookie should, his ability to be a matchup player based on Dallas' opponent may benefit from somebody else signaling the plays.
Reinforcements are on the way for the Cowboys pass rush with DeMarcus Lawrence and Neville Gallimore, making Parsons more valuable as a stand up linebacker. This is a role the Penn State product struggled in against the Patriots, putting in extra work throughout the week to be ready for the Vikings.
Kearse's position has been something of a hybrid since signing with the Cowboys this offseason. His best snaps have come in the box as an extra safety, while also being asked to play in deep zone coverage or man-to-man on both tight ends and outside receivers.
Micah Parsons didn’t like how he played vs Patriots, so he started getting to work earlier
Dan Quinn: “I turned around and saw him walking in next to me. I said, ‘What do we got going on here?’ He said, ‘I’m changing some things.’
“It’s no surprise he played well (last night).”
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 2, 2021
If this type of focus and extra preparation paid off for the Cowboys almost immediately, they should gather much more from their latest win than just the ability to complete without Dak Prescott. With winnable games against the Broncos and Falcons at home ahead, Mike McCarthy's message of keeping the long term goals for this team in sight is already being echoed by first year players. Leveraging the ups and downs of a new 17 game season, filled with mostly ups through eight weeks for Dallas, is exactly why players like Kearse were brought in to provide stability.
For Kearse's role to include play calling duties midseason may come as a surprise, but few around The Star are questioning what Dan Quinn and McCarthy come up with right now – especially if it can be framed as a way to get the most out of rookie sensation Micah Parsons.