"A lot of this soft tissue injury, these muscle pulls, there’s a decision. It’s sensitive but the player can still play, but there’s risk that he could re-injure it. That’s the key. It’s when you have to make that ambiguous decision almost … but you have to make a tough decision as to when to really put the stress on the muscle or on the injury situation. I think he’s ready." - Jerry Jones on DeMarcus Ware's pending return
That was the Dallas Cowboys owner's statement made on 105.3 The Fan during his weekly radio interview on Tuesday. While many Cowboys fans are loath to give Jerry any credit, it must be admitted that there is a load of truth hidden in this particular segment of Jerry-speak. The Cowboys need to find the balance between needing DeMarcus Ware's production now and avoiding the possible risk of having him re-injure himself and following many of his teammates to injured reserve.
The Cowboys need Ware, that is not a question. One of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, #94 is the one player in Rod Marinelli's stable that forces offensive coordinators to make adjustments to their schemes. On the season, the outside linebacker turned defensive end has four sacks and 16 quarterback pressures. While those numbers are not the kind of production that fans normally expect from Ware, even when he does not get to the passer himself, he draws extra attention which can help to free up guys like Jason Hatcher and George Selvie.
When you have a multi-time Pro Bowl player and future Hall of Fame guy like DeMarcus Ware on your defensive line, he always has an impact, and right now the Cowboys need all the impact players that they can get. As Tom Ryle mentioned in his most recent look at the defensive line, "It has been a hard task to build this line, and it probably is not quite over. But the last few additions have made it stronger. If this line can hold together and continue to improve, then this will be a job well done." While the "No-Names" along the line have really stepped up, getting a healthy DeMarcus Ware out there with those guys cannot help but to make them better. Of course, the key word there is healthy. Dallas can ill afford to rush him back for the New Orleans game, and then lose him for the rest of the season. From his statements right after the injury, we know that Ware is ready to get back in the game. DeMarcus held out hope that he would not miss a single game. It looks like Jerry Jones is just as eager to get him back on the field. Now they need to find a workable balance regarding how the coaching staff will use one of their best weapons.
The Cowboys, rather than rushing the players return, placed greater emphasis on Ware's long-term value to the team. He will be a vital component down the stretch, and that brings up an interesting dilemma for the Dallas coaching staff: how much will they be willing to risk Ware's health on Sunday? Ideally, with the bye week coming up after Sunday's contest, it would be nice to give him two more weeks to heal. On the other hand, Dallas holds just a one game lead on the Philadelphia Eagles and at this point every game is critical for the team. At this point it really is a balancing act, and the Cowboys will likely attempt to find a happy balance somewhere in the middle.
Thus far, the Cowboys have used a very conservative strategy with Ware's return, and they will likely continue to do the same.
"I'm going to call it, made an investment into the future and the latter part of the season to be conservative on how fast we put him out there." - Jerry Jones
Although I expect to see the defensive end take the field against the Saints, I am anticipating that he will likely see most of his action in a limited role. This will not only mitigate the amount of risk involved, it will also allow Ware to play himself back into football shape. For me, the most important thing is for the Dallas Cowboys to have their big guns, including Ware, in the best possible shape in December.
In my opinion, Dallas should get Ware somewhere in the vicinity of 20 snaps against New Orleans. That allows him to kick off some rust while still limiting the stress on his injury. What is your take? How much action do you expect to see from #94 on Sunday?