How DeMarcus Ware Became the Dallas Cowboys' Sack Leader

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How DeMarcus Ware Became the Dallas Cowboys' Sack Leader
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With his 114th and 115th sacks on Sunday against the Rams, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware became the team’s all-time sack leader, passing Harvey Martin. It seems like just yesterday that Bill Parcells and the Cowboys were deciding between Ware and Maryland’s Shawne Merriman. Even a few years into their careers, folks wondered whether or not the Cowboys made the right choice. No one is wondering anymore.

Ware’s dominance has been so extraordinary because of the level of consistency he’s displayed. Since 2006—his second year in the NFL—Ware has never posted fewer than 11 sacks in a season. Perhaps even more impressive, he hasn’t missed a single game during his nine-year career. And those stats don’t even begin to capture Ware’s brilliance.

 

DeMarcus Ware By the Numbers

A little perspective on Ware’s accomplishment:

Although Ware ranks 17th in sacks all time, he’s still quite a way from the top. Sitting at No. 1 is Bruce Smith with 200 sacks—85 more than Ware. The Cowboys defensive end would need to average 10 sacks a year for the next nine seasons—this year included—to catch Smith.

  • 3: Ware’s rank in sacks among active players

Ware currently ranks third in sacks among active players behind John Abraham and Jared Allen. Abraham leads the league with 122, although he’s 35 years old. Ware’s real competition for the active sack crown is Allen, who has three more sacks than Ware at the same age.

  • 33.6: Percentage of Cowboys’ sacks by Ware since his rookie season

Since arriving in Dallas in 2005, Ware has had more than one in every three sacks from the ‘Boys.

  • 4: Number of teams against which Ware doesnt have a sack

This number really displays Ware’s supremacy. All four teams play in the AFC, and he’ll get a shot at two of them—San Diego and Denver—in the Cowboys’ next two.

 

 

Arc

In terms of his peak years, Ware’s career has mirrored that of the typical pass-rusher. He peaked in 2008, a career-high in both sacks and tackles at age 26. Take a look at Ware’s tackles by year.

There’s an obvious downward trend over the last few years, which is compatible with what we see from Ware on film. He’s still an above-average run defender, but he’s not as dominant as he once was.

Yet despite the decreasing tackle efficiency, Ware’s sack numbers have been pretty steady.

The 2012 season was a down one for Ware, but many argued that was because he was oft-injured. It’s tough to tell if Ware’s 2012 decline was the result of a banged-up body, age, or both. Stats seem to suggest that Ware could slow down later in the season, but there’s definitely something to be said about his switch to a 4-3 defense. Can his responsibilities and seemingly increased focus on rushing the passer extend his career? Time will tell, but for now, Ware of 31 years old is resembling 26-year old Ware quite a bit.

 

Ware’s Versatility

Ware is the type of player defensive coordinators drool over because he’s scheme-diverse. We don’t need to see more than a handful of plays from Ware in the Cowboys’ new 4-3 defense to know he’s going to thrive in it. Actually, one could argue that Ware was really a “poor fit” for the 3-4 defense, with his skill set really being best suited to rushing the passer on nearly every play, as he’ll do for Monte Kiffin.

One of the reasons we know that Ware can be dominant with his hand in the ground as a seven-technique defensive end is that he played from that position in the past in the Cowboys’ nickel packages. In obvious passing situations, the Cowboys have historically used a four-man line—the same look they use on the majority of their snaps under Kiffin.

Still, most of Ware’s sacks came from a stand-up position in the 3-4. Let’s take a look using NFL Game Rewind.

  • 3-4 Ware vs. Eli Manning

In last year’s opening night contest, the Giants faced a 1st-and-10 at the Cowboys’ 41-yard line to start the fourth quarter. With the Giants in a traditional “I Left” formation, Ware was aligned on the weak side.

The Cowboys ran a zone blitz on the play, dropping linemen into coverage and confusing the Giants’ offensive line. Ware capitalized, using a rip move to split a double-team and get right in on quarterback Eli Manning.

Manning showed play-action, and by the time he turned around, Ware was hot on his trail. He retreated, but Ware eventually corralled him for a 15-yard loss. Ware doesn’t use a rip as much as a pure speed rush, but it shows how versatile he can be.

Although Ware’s game is based on an elite combination of speed and strength, there’s still a difference rushing from a three-point stance as compared to when he was in a 3-4. Namely, Ware might be able to get even better jumps on the snap than he did before; there’s a reason sprinters start low to the ground and not from a stand-up position.

In the third quarter on Sunday, the Rams faced a 1st-and-10 at the Cowboys’ 35-yard line. Dallas rushed only four defenders on the play, and the Rams tried to double Ware with the right tackle and running back.

 

Ware slipped them both, and the sight was a scary one for quarterback Sam Bradford. Ware ended up breaking the Cowboys’ all-time sack record on this play—one on which he used his trademark quickness to bring down a quarterback for the 115th time in his career.

With all of the uncertainty in Dallas during Ware’s time in the league, Cowboys fans have always been able to lean on the outside linebacker turned defensive end. Regardless of the Cowboys’ scheme or their opponent, Ware has been the most valuable player for the ‘Boys for almost his entire career.

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