Pressure On Big D

three of which prevent what appeared to be sure touchdowns or field goals.

They have 11 take-aways in six games, one short of two a game. Not outstanding when it comes to league standards, but already half as many as the Cowboys had in 16 games last year.

So what's the deal? Has the 3-4 made that big a difference? The acquisition of Anthony Henry? Aaron Glenn?

Me, for my money, the difference is the pressure the Cowboys have been applying on opposing quarterbacks. They did not give Donovan McNabb or Eli Manning the time of day in the pocket. That's huge. When they did, as you saw in those final couple of Giants drives, Manning was much more effective.

But that front - and that means multiple players - has done a bang-up job of putting undo pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Let the Cowboys' 20 sacks stand as Exhibit A. Only Indianapolis has more sacks in the NFL, and but one more at that.

Those 20 sacks, as recently pointed out, put the Cowboys on pace for a 53-sack season. Last time they did that? Try 1986.

And this is not just a one-man band. Sure rookie DeMarcus Ware leads the team with four sacks, one in each of the past four games. And Greg Ellis is on his heels with 3½. And Glover would have been tied for the lead if not for Ware lining up off-sides in that Oakland game.

But this has been a concerted effort. The Cowboys already have 11 players with sacks, including linebackers, cornerbacks and backup linemen. Why in six games, that's the most Cowboys with sacks since 1999 when 13 guys finished the season in the sack column.

It's not just sacks. It's pressure, too. Already they have 30, and Ellis leads with 12. Ware has eight, which is not bad for a rookie who suddenly is drawing extra attention, which I'm guessing is helping out Ellis on the other side, especially in nickel situations.

Now then, all this pressure translates into more than just sacks. Try interceptions. The Cowboys have six, and one of those this past Sunday - since we're dealing in short-term memory - landed in the hands of Henry because Manning was backing out of harm's way while throwing. Also try passes defensed since defensive backs have a better chance to break on passes either thrown out of desperation or without much force. They have 29 of those.

Also, why don't you look at the opponent quarterback rating. Try 78.9, and hey, they have faced the likes of Drew Brees, Mark Brunell, Kerry Collins, McNabb and Manning. Four of those five guys currently have a QB rating of at least 90, and the other guy, Collins, is at 85.

Against the Cowboys, only Brunell and the 49ers' since-benched Tim Rattay had better than a 90 QB rating, Brunell finishing at 94.1, mostly thanks to his two, last-minute touchdown passes, and Rattay 91.4. And Collins was the only other quarterback at more than 70. Hmmm, two of those guys won and Rattay would have if not for the resurgent Cowboys offense in the fourth quarter.

Sensing a trend?

"That's the key," said Ware, knowing pressure on a quarterback makes all the difference in the world. "And we can move guys around, because some guys rush better against certain guys."

And that's the versatility of this 3-4 defense. Teams can't be sure if Ware is standing up or putting his hand on the ground. Lately, they can't be sure if he's lining up on the right side of the Cowboys' 3-4 or possibly to the left when they go nickel in the four-man front. They are unsure in the nickel if the linebackers are coming up the middle or if possibly that will be Newman blitzing off the line. Or maybe Keith Davis. Or maybe Roy Williams. Sometimes both.

While diversity in fronts and blitzes is important, it's more important to have guys who know how to blitz; who know how to rush the quarterback. Don't know if hasty decisions can be made in six games, but to me, it sure appears Ware knows how to rush the quarterback, the Cowboys finally breaking that string of strikeouts at defensive end. Glover and Ellis, we know they know how.

But along with Ware, now we see Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff and Marcus Spears. That's four rookies combining for seven sacks in six games. Last year, well, the Cowboys had one rookie (Nat Jones) with a grand total of one sack. The

MICK SHOTS

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