Why can't ends rush the passer in the 3-4?

Since the season ended, I've been facinated by ebb and flow of opinions on this blog about what we need to do to shore up our defense. A key issue is getting more pressure on the QB. Yes we need a corner to replace Newman. We need a safety. We need depth at ILB. We need Bruce Carter to step up next year and be the second round steal the Cowboys projected him to be.

Kegbearer had a really insightful and rational defense of Anthony Spencer that has changed my mind about the need to replace him: Kegbeaer's Pass Rush Grades.

Before reading that post, I was thinking we needed to get an OLB to replace Spencer. Now I'm wondering if that's really the way to increase pressure on the QB.

When you read about the pass-rushing advantages of the 3-4 defense, the idea is to enable the pass rush to come from one side or the other, keeping the defense guessing. That's fine if you don't have Demarcus Ware on one side. But as long as Ware is on one side of the line, the other OLB is not going to be an elite sack artist because he's not going to get the chances. Consider the choices:

1. Blitz with both OLBs and all three lineman.

2. Send Anthony and not Ware.

3. Send both OLBs and drop a lineman into coverage.

The first scenario is the most predictable blitz package. So it's the easiest to prepare for if you're the opposing defense. The second package uses the only Cowboy who can consistently pressure the QB as a coverage guy. Of course, you can count on some announcer saying how great Ware is in coverage while the rest of us are asking why the heck the team is wasting its best pass rusher on TE coverage. The third package is playing with fire as a running back drifts into the flat and starts waving frantically in the hopes of getting a fat guy out on the dance floor.

More after the jump.

All of this pass-rush discussion brings us to the big question. What is the best way for the Cowboys to get consistent pressure on the QB? Part of the problem is having some depth and a rotation so that the line doesn't get worn down. But there seems to be a lot of conventional wisdom that a DE in the 3-4 can't be an effective rusher. I'm guessing that's because most of those guys tend to be 300+ pounds and not as quick and agile as guys like Ware or even Spencer. But why do you have to put a fat guy at DE? On the 4-3, teams have lighter guys at DE, guys with frames similar to Ware. On the Giants, for example, Piere-Paul is 278. Justin Tuck is 268 lbs. And Osi Umenyiora is just 255 lbs.

Other examples: DE Jarred Allen (22 sacks) is 270 lbs; DE Jason Babin (18 sacks) is 263; DE Chris Long (13 sacks) is 270 lbs. In contrast, OLB Terrell Suggest (14 sacks) is 260; OLB Aldon Smith (14 sacks) is 258. So there is not a huge size difference between the best OLBs and the best DEs who get sacks. At the end of the day, the best 4-3s use two fat guys and the best 3-4s do too.

In contrast, we have Coleman at 306 (one sack), Spears at 317 (one sack), Lissemore at 306 (two sacks) and our sack artist, Hatcher at 302 (4.5 sacks).

Why not have one of those more agile guys opposite Ware and along side Anthony Spencer? That way, you really could mix up blocking assignments by alternating which one you sent and periodically sending both.

Obviously, you can't put just anybody at DE. It has to be someone who can get pressure on the QB. It also has be someone who can team with Spencer to stop the run on that side, something that Spencer is actually great at. If that guy comes in a 300 pound package, so be it. But if he looks more like a 3-4 OLB, maybe that's not so bad.

Separately, neither DE nor Spencer might get double digit stats. But the two could be deadly together. The main thing is that the Cowboys need to get pressure with four men. If they do that, then blitzes will be even more effective. And QBs will throw more interceptions and incompletions.

Now if we could get a widebody at NT and move Ratlif to the other DE spot, next to Ware, I'm thinking it's going to be pressure city for opposing QBs.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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