It’s shocking in some ways. There has been so much analysis this offseason about the Dallas Cowboys’ defense being what let this team down in the 2011-12 NFL season and rightfully so. At every turn analysts point to multiple answers for this defense to turn their play around and spearhead a charge to December and January relevancy:
A) Sean Lee is on the precipice of leading this unit which has been lacking a leader for so long.
B) Rob Ryan will have a full offseason to implement his scheme and bring this defense to the top of the charts.
C) The overhauled secondary with Carr and Claiborne will cause more turnovers with their more aggressive play on the outside.
While most analysts point to C, the answer isn’t found on this list. Standing right in front of us is the most productive and durable pass rushing linebacker in NFL history with a chance to add his name to the Mt. Rushmore of defensive players: DeMarcus Ware.
It is Ware above Lee, Ryan or the secondary that has the shortest route to making the Cowboys defense a real bad day for opponents. He is already the Cowboys best player but here are three areas of improvement Ware can make to propel the Cowboys into a weekly nightmare for other teams and place himself firmly alongside the NFL’s greatest* in prominence.
It is OK to have leadership coming from any part of a team but to have it come from the best player will influence the whole team. There is just too much production from Ware for the team not to follow his lead if he grabs it. Holding players accountable and motivating them at the most critical times of the game is a role that Ware can and should fill. Garrett stresses situational football and Ware should be as dialed into the situations as the coach. It’s not good enough to go out and try to get a sack on a key third down. The urgency he feels must be transferred to Spencer, Ratliff and the rest of the defense. This transference should come from Ware who sets the example in practice and on game day. Players need to have some anxiety around facing Ware in the huddle and on the sidelines when the defense gives up key plays or breaks discipline. If Ware can tidy up his offside penalties, and channel the urgency he has, his owner has, and his coordinator has, then this unit will be more accountable and more disciplined. He has the cache built up; he just needs to seize the reins.
It may surprise some that Lawrence Taylor was not the leader of the Giants defense. Yet the intensity and ferocity with which he played the game defined the unit as a whole. The will he imposed on his defense left a mark on the opposition even causing Joe Gibbs to create a new position—the H-back—to deal with hurricane Taylor coming off the left side of the offense. Gibbs was quoted as saying that they actually lost games because of Taylor and had to do something. For Ware, making the jump from getting sacks/causing negative plays to winning games with his play and presence can be established in the physicality and ferocity of how he finishes his tackles and sacks. He is either faster than the lineman blocking him, or bigger and stronger than the RBs and QBs he is tackling. He has to begin to overwhelm those opponents with the gifts he has. We have seen glimpses but not a steady diet of ferocity that will have the opponent game planning how to keep their QBs and RBs healthy. This is the kind of mentality that his team would follow. Arriving in a bad mood must be his signature. There’s no doubting he will continue to add to his productivity but being a menace would make him a game changer.
3. Black Mamba
This nickname earned by Kobe Bryant represents how aggressively and confidently he finishes off opponents when the opportunity presents itself. I have lost count how many games Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed have made the play to finish off opponents in key games. Ray Lewis has made a living out of making the key play for his team when it is needed the most. Demarcus Ware needs to begin owning crunch time. There is no magic scheme or formula to follow on this one. He has to personally build upon that clout he has earned by consistently coming up big when his team is in the position to close games out. Crunch time leaves no time to talk about double teams or being gassed from a game’s worth of pass rushing. Closing time should be synonymous with #94 and it can only begin from Ware’s heart. He simply can no longer accept the losing end.
These are personal challenges and opportunities for Demarcus Ware. They stand in front of him waiting to be snatched and owned. Accomplish these and Dallas will be home to the greatest pass rusher of all time, and a ring or two to boot.
* Sack stats through first 7 seasons of career
Games (FIRST 7 SEASONS)