ALLEN PARK — If there’s a better NFL defenseman than Cowboys’ linebacker DeMarcus Ware, Scott Linehan could not name him.
“We know he’s going to be coming from the outside most of the time, they play both open side, closed side of the formation, they put him in the middle of the formation, our guys will know where he’s at, the hard part is blocking him,’’ the Lions offensive coordinator said.
“Is there a better player than that guy right now on defense? I don’t know, I have a hard time finding one who affects the game like he does, big challenge.’’
Ware is one reason the Dallas Cowboys’ defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFC. He could play a huge factor in Sunday’s game when the Lions visit Cowboys Stadium for the second time in 10 months.
In November the Cowboys beat the Lions who were still on that record-setting, ugly road-loss streak. The final score was 35-19, but it seemed closer. Dallas held a 21-19 lead heading into the fourth quarter when Jon Kitna (Tony Romo was injured) connected with Miles Austin for a 4-yard touchdown, then Kitna ran a 29-yard bootleg to score.
The one thing about that game is that the Lions were able to prevent Ware from having a big game, holding him to half a sack and four tackles.
“I think we did a pretty good job last year, but last year is last year, this year is a whole new story,’’ Linehan said who didn’t mention that the Lions’ offense is much more efficient this year than last.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and his offensive teammates will know where Ware is on every snap.
“They do a good job of moving him around, that’s something we have to pay attention to,’’ Stafford said. “You’ve got to understand where he’s wanting to rush from and some of the stuff he does best. We have to try to get the ball out quick, he’s a great player, he’s leading the NFC in sacks, he’s got five sacks by now, he’s doing a great job upfront.’’
It’s another challenge for the Lions’ offensive line which struggled with the noise last week at the Metrodome in the Lions’ overtime win. They allowed five sacks after zero sacks in the first two games.
“They do have very good pass rush, first in the NFL in sacks with 13, DeMarcus Ware has five,’’ Schwartz said. “He’s definitely a guy we need to neutralize, whether it’s neutralize by running the ball, neutralize by throwing the ball quick, neutralize by protecting well — however you do it we need to account for him on every single play.’’
Of course the Cowboys defense isn’t a one-man show. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff and linebacker Sean Lee could be a handful too.
“This is a great defense, not a good defense,’’ Linehan said. “That’s a tough match-up for any offense or offensive line. It’s not like you can concentrate on one side or a certain interior player, you’re talking about having those speed guys on the outside and a guy that plays like Ratliff does in the middle, it’s tough duty.’’
And that defense is part of what stands in the way of the Lions running their win streak this season to 4-0.
Of course in Dallas this same conversation could be held about Ndamukong Suh and the Lions defense which is ranked second in the NFC overall and first in pass defense. Suh had eight tackles in the Lions’ loss in November along with half a sack, but that was last year. He and the Lions’ defense are a more complete unit this year.
It all sets up for a good one.
(Paula Pasche covers the Lions. Follow her on Twitter @PaulaPasche. Read her Lions Lowdown blog at TheOaklandPress.com. Get Lions news delivered directly to your phone by texting the keyword “Lions” to 22700.)
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