Could DeMarcus Ware's Injury Be a Death Blow to the Dallas Cowboys Defense?

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Could DeMarcus Ware's Injury Be a Death Blow to the Dallas Cowboys Defense?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Given the way DeMarcus Ware pulled up while injuring his quad on a second-quarter pass rush Sunday night against the Washington Redskins, it looked like the injury would certainly be more serious than the three to four week diagnosis that was reported Monday. 

The Dallas Cowboys' all-time leading sack man will still be out for at least a few games with what Adam Schefter of ESPN.com revealed to be a strained quadriceps. 

Ware was optimistic about his return, though, saying, "My body recovers really fast, I'm not going to be out that long."

But that might still be enough to sink Monte Kiffin's defense. 

Remember, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff are already out. Spencer for the season, and Ratliff for...well, maybe forever, according to Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News.

Last year, Spencer and Ware combined for 22.5 sacks, which was 66 percent of the team's total for the season. The year before that, it was 61 percent. This year, Ware led the team in total pressures and entered Sunday's game on pace for a 13-sack campaign.

DeMarcus Ware/Anthony Spencer
Sacks Percentage of team's total sacks
2011 25.5 60
2012 22.5 66

Pro Football Reference

But his impact extends beyond that.

Ware attracts double-teams, especially with Spencer out, freeing up fellow defensive linemen Jason Hatcher and George Selvie, both of whom are experiencing career years. Things might change dramatically without Ware forcing opposing pass protectors to concern themselves with a guy who is 17th on the all-time NFL sack list at the age of 31.

Now, for the first time in nine years, the 'Boys will have to play an entire game—several of them, actually—without Ware.

Considering that, with Ware, they had only one sack in their last two games prior to Sunday's matchup with the Redskins, that's a big concern. 

Dallas ranks just above the league average with 17 sacks this season, but 13 of those came in first three weeks. Only the Chicago BearsNew York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have recorded fewer sacks than the Cowboys in the last three games. 

Fewest sacks, last three games
Sacks
1. New York Giants 2
2. Chicago Bears 3
3. Dallas Cowboys 4

Pro Football Reference

They did pick up three sacks after Ware left Sunday's game, though. Hatcher was a superhero on one of those plays, Kyle Wilber was relentless on another and the third was more of a coverage sack.

The Redskins were having a slew of issues in pass protection, though, which means things could be a lot different going forward—especially when you consider that offenses will have a chance to fully prepare for a Cowboys pass rush sans Ware.

In Week 7, with first place in the NFC East on the line, that Ware-less defensive front will have to go up against Chip Kelly's high-powered attack, which will likely be led by Nick Foles.

Foles has been sacked just twice since relieving the injured Michael Vick six-plus quarters ago and his sack percentage ranks second in the NFL, behind only Peyton Manning. He gets rid of the ball quickly and has got some stellar veteran blockers.

Then it'll be the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, who have given up a combined 23 sacks in 11 games. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), both offensive lines rank well above average in terms of pass-blocking efficiency and neither should have a ton of trouble against a depleted Dallas defensive front.

The New Orleans Saints, whom Dallas faces in Week 10, also rank in the top 10 in that area. 

Dallas' next four opponents: Pass protection rankings
Sacks allowed Sack % Pressures allowed PBE
Philadelphia Eagles T-19th T-22nd 27th 29th
Detroit Lions T-3rd 2nd 10th 3rd
Minnesota Vikings T-13th T-22nd 8th 12th
New Orleans Saints T-13th 9th 11th 8th

Pro Football Reference/Focus

Again, Selvie's been a pleasant surprise and Hatcher's playing at a Pro Bowl level, but that could change during a full stretch without Ware leading the charge.

Wilber will have to step up. He had four pressures and a huge strip sack against the Redskins, but now the element of surprise will disappear. 

Considering how shaky guys like Morris Claiborne and Bruce Carter have been as this defense transitions to Kiffin's Tampa 2, a loss like this up front could make things impossible against the offenses of Philly, Detroit and New Orleans. 

The key word, of course, is "could."

Stars are born every year thanks to opportunities like this. Maybe this is exactly the type of adversity an inconsistent and mistake-prone defense needs to rise up. Maybe Wilber and/or Selvie emerge in a big way and Claiborne starts shutting guys down.

We just don't know how a relatively young defense is going to react. It hasn't played a full game without Ware since 2004 and the numbers aren't in its favor.

On paper, this loss—even though it's only supposed to be a three- or four-week deal—could derail the Cowboys' season.

Again, "could."

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