This time of the year playing at less than 100% is expected. No one is 100%, not even the guys on the practice squad. DeMarcus Ware is among those hurting. Equipped with a bulky brace protecting his hyper-extended elbow Ware is giving it all he’s got. Unfortunately, it’s just not good enough. After starting the year on his usual brilliant sack pace, (collecting 9 sacks in the first 8 games) DeMarcus Ware tapered off only logging 2.5 sacks the next six games. Watching him play it’s obvious the elbow, shoulder, and probably some other unreported injury are at fault for the diminished performance. Since Ware has been the Dallas Cowboys only legitimate sack threat the last few years, you would imagine an injury to Ware would spell doom to the season.
But not so fast. Anthony Spencer has stepped up and provided some pressure of his own. After this week’s excellent performance, Spencer now has 10 sacks for the first time in his career. He made 7 of those sacks during the second half slump of DeMarcus Ware. Just when it was needed. This is not to be considered a knock on Ware. Not at all. Ware has singlehandedly provided a pass rush for this team for years. He has legitimate injuries he’s dealing with and considering the injuries – he’s doing pretty darn well. The point is Spencer is stepping up to finally become that “bookend” pass rusher the Cowboys have always wanted.
Scheme also has something to do with this. The team knows Ware is injured and he will not be able to play to the level we are accustomed to. Because of that Rob Ryan is rushing Anthony Spencer more often than normal. As many know, the Cowboys don’t rush both outside linebackers every time. They historically allow Ware to pin his ears back and hunt QB’s all while Spencer executes other responsibilities like man matchups with the RB or TE, covering the flat, protecting the screen, and of course rush the passer. With Ware’s injury they are splitting assignments a little more. Ware still gets to rush the passer more often but it’s becoming slightly more balanced. Spencer is getting more opportunities and he’s taking advantage of those.
Having a balanced pass rush is really a good thing for the Cowboys. Previously teams knew Ware was the main rusher. He was double teamed every time. Lately as Spencer has been making more noise, teams are being forced to keep attention on the other side too. No longer do QB’s know exactly where the rush is coming from. Ware is seeing less double teams as a result. That’s a VERY good thing. Going into the homestretch with two pass rushers on opposite sides may just be the key to the playoffs.