EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The most decorated players on the Giants' offensive and defensive lines will each confront a daunting challenge in the team's primetime season opener Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys in MetLife Stadium.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence were selected second-team All-Pros in 2022. Lawrence was also a first-time Pro Bowler. The two linemen joined quarterback Daniel Jones as Giants players who received lucrative contract extensions this offseason.
But both linemen will confront opponents who are among the very best at their positions in the NFL; Thomas will try to keep premier pass rusher Micah Parsons from getting close to Jones, while Lawrence will often go head-to-head with Zack Martin, long considered one of the best guards in the NFL.
Parsons, an outside linebacker selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, had 13.5 sacks last season after finishing his rookie season with 13.0. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White and Aldon Smith as the only players with 13.0-plus sacks in each of their first two seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Parsons' 26.5 sacks are the sixth-most in a player's first two seasons since 1982 (Smith is first with 33.5 for San Francisco in 2011-12). Parsons' nine career games with 2.0 sacks tie Smith for the most in a player's first two seasons since '82.
Thomas believes Parsons' exceptional athleticism separates him from other players at his position.
"Most edge rushers that you go against, they're about 6-5, about 260 and they have good bend, good get off, but he is different," Thomas said. "He has speed to play linebacker off the ball. So, that makes it difficult sometimes with his pass rush moves, he's just moving quicker than what you're used to seeing."
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Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn aligns Parsons in different positions to increase the degree of difficulty for opposing offenses. How does Thomas try to deal with a player with Parsons' multiple skillset?
"What you want to do is use your technique," he said. "A lot of times when you're going against somebody that has a good get off, good change of direction, you speed up your process, your set, your punch, everything, and that's when he takes advantage of you. You jump out too fast, he counters inside. If you're hanging inside too long, he'll run around the corner. So, for me, it's just trusting my set, trusting my technique, and then putting myself in the right position to make a play."
Parsons doesn't wreck opposing offensive plans as a solo act. The Cowboys were the only NFL team in 2022 to have seven different players with at least 4.0 sacks. Dorrance Armstrong was second on the team with 8.5. DeMarcus Lawrence, entering his 10th season with Dallas, has 54.5 career sacks, including 6.0 last season, 3.0 of them in a Monday night game vs. the Giants last September.
"Don't get me wrong, he's a great player, but it's not just Micah," Thomas said. "They have (backup defensive end) Sam Williams, they have Armstrong, they have the guys on the interior, and they do a good job of playing off each other. If he's not getting a sack, he's getting pressure, but somebody else is making a sack or vice versa. They do a good job of running games and things like that, applying pressure. So, I think it's that whole front but obviously he's the leader of that group."
The competitor in Thomas is pumped up for his matchup with Parsons, a first-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons.
"That's what you live for being a left tackle," he said. "You're going against some of the best athletes that God has created every week and that's a good challenge for me. My competitive nature wants to win that battle. I'm just working every day to do what I can to help my team, help my group as an offensive line because if we do our jobs, you know, open up the holes and give D.J. (Daniel Jones) time, we have a good chance for success."
Dexter Lawrence echoes similar admiration when he speaks about Martin, a six-time first-team All-Pro – including 2021-22 – who is considered by some to be one of the best guards in NFL history. But Lawrence's objective, of course, is the exact opposite of Thomas' – he wants to stifle the Cowboys' rushing attack and put the heat on quarterback Dak Prescott, who has won each of his last 10 starts vs. the Giants. For most of the game, the player tasked with derailing Lawrence's intentions will be Martin.
"I do love a challenge," Lawrence said. "A guy like Zack is good to go against to prove yourself against one of the better guys in the league. I got a lot of respect for him and I'm ready for the matchup."
Lawrence was asked why Martin is so successful.
"I think he is a smart, savvy, older (32 years old) player," Lawrence said. "He has good feet, good hands. He's just a good player. I think the things that make him good are his head, his feet and his hands."
In addition to Martin, who plays right guard, Lawrence must also contend with left guard Tyler Smith and center Tyler Biadasz. Smith has not practiced this week and is listed as doubtful for the game. The Cowboys' backup guards are a pair of rookies, Asim Richards and T.J. Bass.
"They all work well together," Lawrence said. "I know they just moved the second-year guy (Smith) to guard (after he started every game at left tackle in his rookie season). But just watching him on tape, he looks very aggressive. The center, they help him out a lot with their scheme. He should be a good matchup."
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