The Cowboys ranked 21st in the NFL in 2012 with 34 sacks. That’s a low number for them, due in large part to DeMarcus Ware’s 11.5 sacks—his lowest total since 2009. Ware didn’t hurt the team with that many sacks by any means, but it shows that if he’s not dominant, the Cowboys don’t have an elite pass-rush.
If Ware rebounds in 2013, the Cowboys should once again be a top 10 pass-rushing unit. It might seem like a big jump from 21st to 10th, but the 10th-ranked team in terms of total sacks last year had 39—just five more than the Cowboys. That total should remain steady in 2013 because the distribution of sacks doesn’t change much, so if the ‘Boys are going to rank in the top 10 in sacks, we need to figure out how they can make up for those five.
The most obvious answer seems to be that Ware will bounce back. That’s certainly a possibility, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on it. Ware is entering his age 31 season—a time when many pass-rushers break down—and he had only 32 pressures last year. I’ve shown before that pass-rushers typically convert around one-quarter of their pressures into sacks, so Ware was actually lucky to record 11.5 sacks. His most likely total was eight.
We can also look at the Cowboys’ pressure total as a unit to see if they got unlucky in regards to sacks. The entire defense had 142 pressures in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. Based on that, their most likely sack total was 35.5. They checked in just below that, so it’s not like they were extremely unlucky. Still, a reversal of luck alone accounts for 1.5 sacks.
So for the ‘Boys to reach 39 sacks, we need to find out how they’ll record 3.5 more. That number is the equivalent of 14 pressures, and I think it’s very possible that the defense adds that many this year. First, Ware’s pressure total was too low. Even though he got lucky to have 11.5 sacks, he’ll probably have around 10 extra pressures in 2013. He averaged well above that number in prior seasons.
Spencer’s pressure total of 29 may or may not increase, but the main area where you’ll see superior play from Dallas is in the interior defensive line. The defensive tackles will play a one-gap scheme in which they can shoot up the field to make plays. With just four more pressures from them, the Cowboys can easily reach the magic total of 39 sacks—and a top 10 finish.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.