Commentary

Victor Butler creates pressure

Cowboys linebacker could force way onto field with ability to rush passer

Updated: August 20, 2012, 5:51 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

We've spent the entire offseason bemoaning the Dallas Cowboys' suspect pass rush and the inability of any player not named DeMarcus Ware to consistently sack the quarterback.

Finally, someone seems ready to join Ware as a player capable of consistently beating one-on-one blocking.

His name: Victor Butler.

He doesn't consistently hold the edge against the run, and he certainly isn't as productive on special teams as the coaching staff would like.

[+] EnlargeVictor Butler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesVictor Butler had two tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hit against San Diego.

So what.

The dude knows how to rush the passer, and this defense isn't talented enough to keep a player with the 10-sack potential on the bench.

Not this season. Not when the owner keeps talking about the window closing and the coach talks about playing and coaching with urgency.

And not when the defensive coordinator might not be here next season if he can't find a way to turn this defense into an elite unit after owner Jerry Jones shelled out $50 million for cornerback Brandon Carr and traded up to acquire the sixth pick in the draft to select cornerback Morris Claiborne.

Add them to Ware, nose tackle Jay Ratliff and linebackers Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee, on the verge of stardom, then it's easy to see why expectations should be high for this defense.

If defensive coordinator Rob Ryan could add another consistent pass rusher, then the Cowboys really might be among the league's top defenses.

Right now, Ware is the Cowboys' only quality pass rusher, so don't tell me what Butler can't do.

"He's done a better and better job on special teams and understanding as a backup player how important that role is," coach Jason Garrett said. "For all players, intensity and consistency has something to do with playing time.

"We don't really want flash players -- a guy who can make a great catch or make a sack then we don't see him for 10-12 plays. The objective is consistent performance."

We can all agree the Cowboys lacked playmakers on defense last season, among the litany of reasons this team blew five fourth-quarter leads.

Jason Garrett We don't really want flash players -- a guy who can make a great catch or make a sack then we don't see him for 10-12 plays. The objective is consistent performance.

-- Cowboys coach Jason Garrett

Sometimes, winning a game is as simple as a guy beating the man in front of him and making a game-changing play.

A pass-rush specialist can do that, especially one that has the innate skill set Butler possesses.

Ware and Spencer each missed the San Diego preseason game while nursing minor injuries. Spencer has missed a couple of weeks of practice, giving Butler an opportunity to stake his claim for more playing time.

He must persuade Garrett and Ryan that he's worthy of having a full-time role in the nickel packages, whether it's as a defensive end with his hand on the ground or standing up as a linebacker.

Perhaps he can even play defensive tackle in some obvious passing situations because guards are usually the worst pass blockers on the offensive line.

In Saturday's loss to San Diego, Butler had two tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a quarterback hit.

"He's in a tough spot," Ryan said. "Victor does a great job. Per play, that guy is in on more plays than probably anyone besides Sean Lissemore. We're expecting big things from him."

No, he's not Ware or Charles Haley, but he can be a difference maker.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ware affected the quarterback -- sacks, pressures and hits -- 72 times in 476 rushes in 2011, once every 6.6 pass rushes. Spencer, who's never had more than six sacks in a season, affected the quarterback once every 8.2 pass rushes.

Butler rushed the quarterback only 126 times, but he totaled 16 sacks, pressures and hits.

That's once every 7.8 rushes, for what it's worth.

"The best pass rushers I've been around or played against have that trait," Garrett said of Butler's ability to get low to the ground, reducing the tackle's target to block.

"They can get around the corner and get low and explode through the tackle. Victor has gotten better and better at that since he's been with us. You can't have enough of those guys."

Butler's training camp performance should elevate his status on the Cowboys' defense.

Now it's time for Ryan to put him in position to consistently attack the quarterback.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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