Commentary

Cowboys' pass rush varies pressure

If preseason win over Rams is indication, DeMarcus Ware will have help with QB

Updated: August 26, 2012, 5:32 PM ET
By Todd Archer | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As he stood on the sideline Saturday night in a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt and shorts to rest a hamstring strain, you couldn't help but wonder whether the smile DeMarcus Ware carried with him was about more than just his normal upbeat disposition.

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Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesSean Lee, Jason Hatcher & Co. are stepping up for DeMarcus Ware, who has notched more than his share of sacks for the Cowboys in recent seasons.
On the first-team defense's third play against the St. Louis Rams, defensive end Jason Hatcher recorded an 8-yard sack of Sam Bradford. On the Rams' third series, inside linebacker Sean Lee had a 4-yard sack of Bradford. On the fourth series, Jay Ratliff had a pressure, and outside linebacker Alex Albright had a quarterback hit. On the fifth series, Hatcher added a pressure, and so did outside linebacker Baraka Atkins.

After the top defense was done for the night, outside linebacker Victor Butler added a quarterback hurry. Outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton and cornerback Mario Butler, a cornerback, added sacks.

Too often over the years, the Cowboys' pass rush has been only about Ware and not enough about anybody else.

"Sometimes you feel that way," Ware said, "but not anymore. There are a lot of guys that have stepped up to the plate that have gotten the gist of what it takes to get to the quarterback."

Ware had 19.5 sacks in 2011, and the fall-off after that was as steep as a cliff. Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was second with six. Defensive end Hatcher added 4.5. Nose tackle Ratliff made the Pro Bowl but had only two sacks as his total dipped for the fourth straight season.

Ware accounted for 46 percent of the Cowboys' sacks in 2011, the highest percentage among the top-five sack leaders from 2011. Minnesota's Jared Allen (22) accounted for 44 percent of the Minnesota Vikings' sacks. None of the other members of the top five had more than 36 percent of their team's sacks.

Since 2005, Ware's rookie season, the Cowboys have recorded 295 sacks. Ware has 99.5 of them, or 34 percent. When the Cowboys made the playoffs in 2006, '07 and '09, he never accounted for more than 34 percent of the defense's sacks.

Variety matters.

"That's what you need," said Spencer, who has never had more than six sacks in a season. "With our defense, we want everybody to be able to blitz like that and get to the quarterback from everywhere. You can game plan for one guy. You can try to game plan for a whole team, but you never know. It can help us out in that aspect."

Last year, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan tried to dial up all sorts of blitzes from different angles and packages, but too often they did not work. Blame it on the lockout that prevented the Cowboys from picking up a scheme that requires timing. Blame it on the lack of personnel in the secondary that did not allow the pass rush to get there.

Blame it on whatever you want, but in a division with Eli Manning and the New York Giants' passing game, Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles' passing game and what should be an improved Washington Redskins passing game with Robert Griffin III and upgraded receivers, the Cowboys must get to the quarterback.

Lee has yet to record a sack in his two seasons. He spent training camp and the preseason game coming after the quarterback. He smacked Bradford on Saturday. Ryan called two corner blitzes, getting there with Butler, and if not for Lee's timing would have done so with cornerback Orlando Scandrick.

"Coach Ryan is great in all aspects, but he loves to pressure," Lee said. "He does a great job dialing up pressure. I think we've responded to that and enjoy playing it."

Nobody should benefit more than Ware, who is still able to dominate even with extra attention every week. In just about every passing situation, Ware will see a tackle paired possibly with a tight end or a running back just to slow him down.

If the Cowboys are going to excel on defense in 2012, it can't be Ware and nobody else. So far in the preseason, so good.

"It's going to be a fun year," Hatcher said. "A lot of different guys are going to have sacks. D-Ware is going to get his, but a lot of other guys are going to have double-digit sacks. I've got a feeling."

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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