I was going through my Cowboys depth chart this morning when I had this thought, if this defense were to lose DeMarcus Ware or Sean Lee, which player would cripple it the most? The reason I ask this question is because the Baltimore Ravens are going through a similar situation with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. My question is could this defense survive without either Ware or Lee? As much as you would like to believe that you could try and piece things together, to replace their overall production it would create a very problematic situation.
When you look at Ware you do lose 19.5 sacks, 26 tackles for loss, 29 hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Without Lee you lose your leading tackler with 102 stops but you also lose a player that had four interceptions, seven passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. Ware as a pressure player accounted for 46% of your sack total and without his numbers, this defense would be ranked last in the NFL in sack totals. You have to believe that Rob Ryan finds a way to use Victor Butler in some different schemes to pick up three to four more sacks to bring his totals to seven but still that is a long way from Ware's numbers and that type of player that week end and week out have to be accounted for my opponent's offensive coordinators.
As for Lee, this is going to sound strange and before you get your pitchforks, torches and storm the gates at Valley Ranch let me try and explain what I am about to say here.
There is a side of me that believes that Sean Lee could be more valuable than Ware.
I understand what you are thinking here but I meant this as no disrespect to Ware as a player but we all agree there are stretches of games where he is not as big of a factor in the action whether it's due to offensive blocking scheme or him being handled by his opponent. For Lee from his inside linebacker spot, there are so many more responsibilities than just going to the ball and making a tackle. As the defensive signal caller, Lee is responsible for getting the call from Ryan, making the call in the huddle to his teammates. Lee is responsible for adjusting the defense to what he is seeing formation wise, and communicating with his teammates in order to give them the opportunity to make a stop on that down. Without Lee, the Cowboys could shift Bruce Carter to the Will and play Dan Connor at the Mike and get two players on the field on the field that could handle his responsibilities but what you would lose is a player that down after down is always around the football, both run or pass. Lee has a rare trait to quickly read and react. When you study him on tape his reactions are like those of a drag racer waiting on the green light to flash. As soon as he sees it, he is gone. Lee makes it very difficult for blocking schemes to really get him slowed down because when as an offensive lineman you try and scoop to him or reach him front side, he is gone. There are times when you do reach him, that he does such a nice job of playing with his hands on the move, he remains unblocked.
Lee also helps you in the passing game in coverage. He is not one of those linebackers that floats in coverage and balls are caught in front of him all day. Lee's vision and awareness is outstanding in coverage. He is athletic enough to cover backs out of the back field but physical enough to adjust inside on a tight end trying to work the middle of the field. We all remember his first interception of the 2011 season when he adjust his zone drop to be in the throwing lane of Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez snatching the ball out of the air like he was Michael Irvin and returning it for a touchdown.
Thankfully, the Cowboys are not in the situation that the Ravens are in having to replace one of their outstanding defensive players. You would not want to have to play without DeMarcus Ware but again, there is a side of me that believes that Sean Lee is just as important. It's nice when you have players like these on your roster.