Surging Packers offense must contend with Micah Parsons, Cowboys’ ball-hawking secondary

Jordan Love and the Green Bay Packers offense are playing at a high level, but they face the difficult task of having to go up against Micah Parsons and the stingy Dallas Cowboys secondary in the NFC Wild Card Round.

In terms of quarterback pressures tracked by Pro Football Focus, Parsons was the most productive pass rusher in football this season, totaling 103. As you would expect, he also ranked second in pass rush win rate, beating the offensive lineman he’s lined across from on nearly one out of every three snaps.

“Micah is a freak show,” said Matt LaFleur on Wednesday. “A game wrecker, and you better know where he’s at.”

The Packers have faced several other top edge rushers this season, including Aidan Hutchinson, Maxx Crosby, TJ Watt, and others. But one thing that separates Parsons from many is his ability to line up just about anywhere–creating mismatches and one-on-one opportunities.

“They do such a great job of moving him around,” LaFleur said. “He can line up on the edge. He can line up at the linebacker, the 3-technique, got the shade. They use multiple personnel groupings, so they do a really good job of scheming you up and trying to create one-on-ones for him, especially in those pass-rush situations.”

In addition to Parsons at the edge rusher position, the Cowboys also have DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler Jr., both of whom rank in the top-31 in pass rush win rate out of 120 eligible edge rushers. Along the interior, Chauncey Golston and Osa Odighizuwa both rank in the top 12 of their position group in that same category.

Overall, as a collective unit, the Cowboys’ defense ranks first in pass rush win rate for the regular season.

“It’s not only Micah,” added LaFleur. “I think just the games they do upfront. They’ve got multiple people who can get after the quarterback. Just watching the tape, it’s carnage in front of the quarterback all the time. All those guys play relentless. They play with great motors, and that’s a prerequisite for being a great pass rusher.”

Pressure on the quarterback can lead to turnover opportunities on the back end, which the Cowboys have been very good at taking advantage of, with the ninth-most interceptions, including DaRon Bland leading the NFL with nine. Stephon Gilmore also ranks 14th in pass breakups.

This is an aggressive group that wants to challenge pass-catchers, and to further complicate things for opposing offenses, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn does an excellent job of varying looks to cause some additional confusion. Opponents are averaging just 6.3 yards per pass attempt against the Cowboys defense.

“It’s been pretty impressive,” said LaFleur of the Cowboys pass defense. “I think those guys do a good job. Certainly, well coached. They jump a lot of routes, but you don’t see a lot of routes going over their head. That speaks a lot of those guys because you don’t always see that.

“All those guys on the back end, they all have tremendous ball skills. So you’ve got to be very precise with the rhythm and the timing of the passing game. You’ve got to make sure the wideouts are coming off the ball with the correct pad level and not snitching on certain routes and concepts to allow them to make those plays.”

The recipe for success for the Packers’ offense in this matchup may begin with Aaron Jones and the run game. For starters, Jones is playing at an extremely high level right now, but in addition to that, in several of the Cowboys’ losses this season, opposing offenses have been able to exploit them in the ground game.

Success in that facet can then trickle down to other areas, such as helping to negate the pass rush, along with opening up opportunities in the passing game.

On the other side of the ball is a Dallas offense that led the NFL in scoring this season. It won’t come easy, but the Packers may find themselves in a situation where they are going to need to put up points against this stingy Cowboys’ defense if they are going to find a way to win.

“They’re fast,” said Aaron Jones at his locker. “They show multiple looks. They’ll move Micah Parsons around. They play a lot of man coverage. They got good ball skills on the back end, and they play together.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire