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Where will Ware Wear out the other Team?

If Demarcus Ware plays a full 16 games, what can we expect from him? Let's look at his last 5 seasons to find out.

Ware will you hide from the Broncos pass rush?
Ware will you hide from the Broncos pass rush?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Demarcus Ware will likely end up in the Hall of Fame. He has 117 career sacks (18th all-time) and 32 career forced fumbles. He has two seasons with 19.5 or more sacks. His season with 19.5 sacks is the 10th best individual sack total in NFL history. His season with 20 sacks is the 8th best individual sack total in NFL history. But, and this is a big but, his sack totals have been declining every year since 2011. Is this is function of Ware losing his skills with age, or is it a function of the horrible defensive talent around him in 2012 and 2013. Let's dig into those questions.

However, before we dig into this I'm going to bring up the caveat that sacks are not the "be all and end all" of QB pressure. A pass rusher can be successful on a given play without bringing down the opposing QB. To that end we will look at total QB pressures (sacks + QB hits) for Ware over the past 5 seasons - noting the 2008 will fall outside this range and that 2008 was Ware's best year of his career. A QB hit occurs when the defender hits the QB right after the QB has released the ball.

Here are Ware's pass rushing numbers going back to 2008 (the 2008 data was messed up at advanced NFL analytics) - (%pressure is based on total defensive snaps - not just pass rushing snaps)

DeMarcus Ware Pass Rushing Stats 2008-2013

Year G Sk PD QBHit FF TFL Int Total Pressures %pressure
2013 13 6 2 12 0 9 1 18 2.73%
2012 16 13 0 20 5 9 0 33 3.82%
2011 16 20 2 28 2 26 0 48 5.33%
2010 16 16 1 23 2 21 0 39 4.33%
2009 16 11 6 22 5 9 0 33 3.67%
2008 16 20 2 ? 6 ? 0 ? ?

So the numbers seem to back the view that his play has been in decline since 2011. But let's see if his two best year's had something that the other year's didn't - another Cowboy that could rush the passer. In 2008, the Cowboys had three other players who registered 20 or more QB pressures - Ellis (29), Ratliff (27) and James (27) - in 20 games. Ware had 19.5 sacks in 16 regular season games. In 2009, only one other player who had more than 20 besides Ware, was Spencer, who had 29. In 2010, the second best pass rusher on the Cowboys finished the season with 12 total pressures (Ratliff and Spencer tied). In 2011, the Cowboys had only one player other than Ware with 20 or more pressures - Spencer (exactly 20). In 2012, Spencer had 25 and no Cowboy other than he or Ware had more than 17 (Hatcher). In 2013, Ware was 3rd on the Cowboys in total pressure as Hatcher (25) and Selvie (19) both did better than he did. So the conclusion is that Ware has not had much help in the past 5 seasons in terms of rushing the passer. In his best season, 2008, he had three other players who were capable of getting to the QB regularly. But in the other five seasons, he did not have much help. I would say that will have at least three other players capable of getting to the QB regularly playing with him in 2014 (Miller, Wolfe, Jackson, Knighton, Sly and Q. Smith?).

None of the players who edge-rushed with Ware as a Cowboy are capable of carrying Von Miller's jock strap. So what is going to happen when these two players are paired as edge-rushers? It's possible that VonWare could break the record for sacks in a season from two players combined. Here are the best sack tandems in NFL history (combined sacks in one season)

Best Pass Rushing Duos in NFL History (by combined sacks)

Total Player A Player B Year Team
39.0 Doleman* Millard 1989 Vikings
33.0 Simmons White* 1992 Eagles
32.5 Taylor* Marshall 1986 Giants
30.5 Dean* Board 1983 49ers
30.0 Allen Robison 2011 Vikings
29.5 Miller Dumerville 2012 Broncos
29.5 Thomas* Smith 1990 Chefs
29.5 Sapp* Jones 2000 Bucs
29.5 Mann Manley 1985 Skins

*indicates Hall-of-Fame

Could VonWare put up 39.5 combined sacks this year? I sincerely doubt it, mainly because there will be other players "stealing" some of their sacks. Good pocket QBs can feel the pressure from the edges and step up into the pocket, but if things go as planned, our DTs will be there to bring the QB down because they will have either beaten their blockers outright or they will have pushed them back into the QB. I think that our team will lead the league in sacks, but I don't think that the Broncos will break the single season TEAM sack record. The best three sack totals in NFL history for a team are:

1985 Bears - 72

1989 Vikings - 71

1987 Bears - 70

72 sacks in 16 regular season games works out to 4.5 sacks per game. You are only going to be able to do that against below average lines and below average QBs. Unfortunately for the 2014 Broncos, we will be facing some good offensive lines (SF, SD and NE) and some very good QBs (Alice, Brady, Pyllis, Luck and Wilson). Keep in mind that the best team sack totals over the past few year have been in the 50s (with CAR and SD being the exceptions)

NFL Team Leader in Sacks by Season

Year Sacks Team
2013 60 CAR
2012 52 STL and DEN
2011 50 PHI and MIN
2010 48 PIT
2009 48 MIN
2008 59 DAL
2007 53 NYG
2006 61 SD
2005 50 SEA
2004 48 ATL

So will VonWare truly have as many sacks as an entire team? If that team is the 2008 Chiefs (10 sacks as a team) or the 2009 Jags (14 sacks as a team) that will not be very hard to do. I think the Ware will come close to equally his best season, if he and Von play all 16 regular season games together. That would mean both guys end up with 15-20 sacks and 25-30 additional QB hits. Both players would have to top their personal bests to have more than 39 combined sacks (Ware;s personal best was 20 and Von's is 18.5).