Could DeMarcus Ware Set New NFL Sack Record In 2013?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The new Cowboys defense has turned DeMarcus Ware from a 3-4 outside linebacker into a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end. Will that improve his chances of cracking the NFL sack record?

Only twelve times has an NFL player recorded more than 19 sacks in a single season since the NFL made sacks an official stat in 1982. DeMarcus Ware is the only player to have done it twice, recording 20 sacks in 2008 and 19.5 sacks in 2011. Both times, Ware was close to breaking Michael Strahan’s 22.5-sack NFL record set in 2001 but ultimately fell short. Here's a table showing the select circle of players with more than 19 sacks in a season:

Player Season Team Sacks
Michael Strahan 2001 New York Giants 22.5
Jared Allen 2011 Minnesota 22
Mark Gastineau 1984 New York Jets 22
Chris Doleman* 1989 Minnesota 21
Reggie White* 1987 Philadelphia 21
J.J. Watt 2012 Houston 20.5
Lawrence Taylor* 1986 New York Giants 20.5
DeMarcus Ware 2008 Dallas 20
Derrick Thomas* 1990 Kansas City 20
Aldon Smith 2012 San Francisco 19.5
DeMarcus Ware 2011 Dallas 19.5
Tim Harris 1989 Green Bay 19.5
* denotes HoF player

Beginning in 2013, the NFL's leader in sacks will receive the newly minted Deacon Jones Award. In a recent article on NFL.com, five analysts opined about which players they thought would lead the NFL in sacks in 2013. Warren Sapp, who is intimately familiar with the new defensive scheme the Cowboys will employ this year, likes DeMarcus Ware for the title:

"Give me DeMarcus Ware. He is the second-fastest player to 100 sacks in the NFL, behind only Reggie White. (And at one point, White had more sacks than games played, just to show you what Ware's up against.) I look at the past five years of Ware's career, and he has 77.5 sacks. That's half a sack more than I had in nine years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and I consider myself a pretty good pass rusher."

"The one unfortunate thing about Ware is he can't do it all by himself in Dallas. The guy's so dominant he could get to the quarterback four times in a game, but his team still could get beat 34-7."

The article also names Jared Allen, Aldon Smith, Chris Long, and J.J. Watt as possible candidates for the Deacon Jones award. In a separate interview, Jared Allen addressed the possibility that the sack record could fall this year:

"You have Clay Matthews, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. There's the evolution of that lighter, skinnier, faster guy ... so I don't think 25 is out of reach. Obviously, that's lofty, and if you look at the history of the NFL, no player ever had two 20-sack seasons. So I would like to say it's going to happen just because you're seeing more people with higher numbers. You look at this year, and you had 20.5, 19.5 and 18.5 at the top, and then the year I had 22 (2011) DeMarcus had 19.5, and then there was (Jason) Babin at 18. I remember when 15 led the league by two or three. So with more people pushing, someone will eventually get it."

Von Miller will not challenge for the sack title this season, but there's a good chance this year's inaugural winner of the Deacon Jones award will be one of the other players named above. And some of those players may have an easier route to the sack record than others. The Arizona Cardinals for example gave up a league leading 58 sacks last season, while the New York Giants gave up a league-low 20 sacks last year. It stands to reason that your chance of getting a sack are a lot higher if you face the Cardinals twice this year than if you face the Giants twice this year.

Using sacks given up in 2012, here's a sack-based strength of schedule for 2013:

2013 NFL Strength of schedule by sacks allowed
Rank Team Sacks Sacks/Game Rank Team Sacks Sacks/Game Rank Team Sacks Sacks/Game
1 DET 632 2.47 12 NYG 596 2.33 22 ATL 568 2.22
2 HOU 629 2.46 13 SEA 594 2.32 22 NO 568 2.22
2 CLE 629 2.46 14 DEN 592 2.31 25 TB 565 2.21
4 TEN 626 2.45 15 JAC 586 2.29 26 DAL 556 2.17
5 IND 621 2.43 15 BUF 585 2.29 26 KC 555 2.17
6 STL 618 2.41 17 BAL 584 2.28 28 PHI 555 2.17
7 MIN 611 2.39 18 CHI 579 2.26 29 SD 554 2.16
8 SF 610 2.38 19 GB 573 2.24 30 NE 550 2.15
8 CIN 609 2.38 20 MIA 571 2.23 31 NYJ 527 2.06
10 PIT 603 2.36 20 WAS 570 2.23 32 CAR 520 2.03
11 OAK 599 2.34 22 ARI 569 2.22

What stands out here is that four out of the six favorites for the sack title in 2013 face what looks like an easier schedule. J.J. Watt (HOU), Chris Long (STL), Jared Allen (MIN), and Aldon Smith (SF) face what looks like a pass-rusher-friendly schedule, while Clay Matthews (GB) faces an average schedule and DeMarcus Ware faces a tough schedule.

But for Ware, it may be less about quality of opponent faced, and more about his health in the second half of the season. Over the last two seasons, Ware has come out strong in the first half of the season (2012: 9 sacks after 8 games, 2011: 12 sacks after 8 game) but his production tapered off in the second half (2012: 2.5 sacks, 2011: 7.5 sacks). In the three seasons prior to that, Ware's production had been fairly similar in the first and second halves of each season.

This year, the consensus coming out of camp is that Ware (together with Bryant) was the best player at camp. If Ware gets out to a fast start in the first couple of regular season games, the sack record may indeed be in reach. And the season opener against the Giants will be a good test: If, like last year, Ware can get at least two sacks against the team that allowed the fewest sacks in 2012, the record may be in reach. After all, the Giants could likely have two starting offensive linemen down for the opener, in what could be a long night for Eli Manning. Ultimately it comes down to what BTB-member Danny Phantom said earlier today:

"Ware looks like a beast out there. He looks so dominant, he might sack Michael Vick and Nick Foles on the same play."

So what do you think, is this the year Ware makes a run at the sack record? And just as importantly, with Hatcher, Spencer, Ratliff and the pass rush shown by some of the other linemen, could the team go for the collective sack record of 72 sacks held by the 1984 Chicago Bears?

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