In his Sack Lunch series, Jon Ledyard looks at a particularly impressive pass-rushing performance from the past weekend’s games, highlighting techniques, moves, or athletic traits that brought each player success. In this installment, Jon looks at the special traits of DeMarcus Ware, highlighting a sack against the Carolina Panthers.
If you’ve read any of my previous work on edge defenders, you know that I’m a firm believer that not all sacks are created equal, and that special pass rushers have the ability to win one-on-one matchups in high-quality contests with regularity. Perhaps no pass rusher has embodied that fact throughout an entire career like DeMarcus Ware, one of the more versatile and explosive edge players in history. At 34 years old and dealing with back issues that kept him out of preseason action completely, some will say Ware has lost a step, but the tape doesn’t do much to support that theory.
On Thursday Night Football during the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, Ware picked an excellent time to demonstrate just how proficient he still is as a pass rusher. Following quarterback Trevor Siemian’s second interception of the game, the Panthers looked to add to a 17-7 lead by mounting a drive from their own 11-yard line midway through the third quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-3 and in desperate need of a stop, Ware came up huge sack for the Broncos.
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Von Miller is known for his incredibly explosive first step, but Ware’s get-off is consistently equal to, if not superior to, his younger counterpart. The 12-year veteran bursts upfield off the snap, forcing left tackle Michael Oher into a hasty retreat in his pass set. Oher turns to face Ware believing he’s comfortably set up on the edge, but he’s underestimated the elite athletic ability that the Broncos outside linebacker still possesses.
You’ve probably heard me paraphrase the offensive tackle adage “your butt is a video camera that should constantly have the quarterback in the viewfinder”, but Oher doesn’t adhere to that principle here. The reason is simple: He can’t, not with that shallow of a pass set. As Ware begins to turn the corner at the top of the arc, Oher quickly realizes his best shot at success is to get a hold of the pass rusher’s hip or left shoulder and run him up the arc. For Ware, the next step is to present as small a target to the offensive tackle as possible, keeping his shoulders square to the end zone until the last possible second.
Ware has one of the more well-rounded toolsets of any pass rusher I’ve ever watched, from spins and counters to violent hands and an eye-opening speed-to-power conversion. But above all else it is Ware’s ridiculous bend and hip flexibility at 6-4, 255 pounds that makes him such an unstoppable force off the edge. There is just nothing for Oher to latch onto as a blocker when Ware’s hip and left hand are skimming the grass on his way to Newton.
The best Oher can do is attempt to pull Ware to the ground, but the Broncos edge rusher is simply too quick for the veteran offensive tackle. Ware finishes the play with a big sack of Newton, forcing a much-needed Panthers punt for a defense that was on the field most of the first half.
Ware has been doing this to offensive linemen throughout his entire career, but the fact that he is still notching high-quality sacks given his age and back issues shows that he is still a force on the edge. Don’t be surprised if this is still standing as one of the most impressive sacks of the season come January.
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All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.