Ravens' line keeping watchful eye on Ware

OWINGS MILLS -- Dallas Cowboys star outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has become a marked man in NFL circles, repeatedly spot-shadowed and marked by laser pointers on game videos by opposing offensive tackles intent on studying enough to keep him from crashing into their quarterback.

However, Ware is much more easily halted by the pause button or slow-motion option than in real time by blockers who have watched the elite Pro Bowl pass rusher burst past them constantly to lead the NFL with 19 sacks.

Heading into Saturday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens, Ware is chasing former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan's NFL record for sacks with 22 1/2 seven years ago. Ware has recorded the most sacks in a season since Strahan and has already tied Mark Gastineau (New York Jets, 1983), Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills, 1990) and Clyde Simmons (Philadelphia Eagles, 1992) for the eighth-most sacks in one year in league history.

"He's relentless," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said of Ware during a Wednesday conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He's a great athlete certainly, but he goes hard every play. I think the thing that sets him apart is that he's not a pass rusher only. He plays the run very well. He's a complete player and he's a special pass rusher."

One week removed from stonewalling Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison as he was held to no sacks in the Ravens' 13-9 loss, the Ravens' offensive line faces arguably its toughest challenge yet against the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Ware. Ware has a deadly-quick first step to go with the acceleration, power and array of moves that makes up his pass-rushing repertoire.

"He's quick, agile, a little taller than James Harrison, who's a little stouter and more compact, where DeMarcus is almost what you would consider a bigger defensive end," Ravens offensive tackle Adam Terry said. "He's a heck of a pass rusher, a really good technician."

Ware has 91 tackles and 19 quarterback pressures, tying former Denver Broncos linebacker Simon Fletcher's league record by posting a sack in 10 consecutive games earlier this season. The Ravens have allowed just 25 sacks this season, but Dallas leads the league with 53 sacks And Ware has been the centerpiece of that harassment of quarterbacks with five more sacks than last year when he set a franchise record for sacks by a linebacker with 14. The Ravens face a difficult task in trying to protect rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who was sacked twice, intercepted twice and fumbled once against the Steelers' top-ranked defense.

Both the Cowboys and Steelers are skilled practitioners of the 3-4 defensive alignment, w hich feature athletic hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker pass rushers adept in pursuit and rushing the passer.

"I don't know if it's tougher than what we saw last week pass-rush wise, but it's every bit as tough," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The Cowboys have one of the best pass rushes in football. It's a little bit different type of scheme, same basic front, though, same type of talent and that's going to be a big priority for us. If we can protect the quarterback, then we'll have a chance to throw the ball."

The Cowboys registered eight sacks in a win over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants last week as Ware sacked Eli Manning three times. He also had seven tackles, two quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles. It has been five games since the Cowboys have allowed a 100-rusher with just one touchdown allowed over the last three games and four consecutive games with at least four sacks.

"We've got to protect our quarterback," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "That's basically what it boils down to. This is a front four that's very good. "This is probably the best defensive line that we'll face all season, but this is probably the best offensive line they're going to face all year. It's going to be a sight to see: their four against our five. I take our five."

Added Flacco: "They're playing well, and they're starting to get into a roll. Our offensive line has been playing great all year. I think last week they did a good job against the Steelers rush, and this week we expect them to do the same."

Besides Ware, veteran defensive end Greg Ellis (seven sacks), newly-minted Pro Bowl nose guard Jay Ratliff (seven sacks, 28 quarterback pressures) and inside linebacker Bradie James (six sacks) have all had their moments penetrating the line of scrimmage.

"We've got our work cut out for us," center Jason Brown said. "They're very athletic, tough and mobile. It's a challenge, but, as an offensive line, we look forward to every challenge."

Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who has battled through a painful sprained shoulder to excel in his first year as Jonathan Ogden's replacement, will likely draw the assignment of blocking Ware the majority of the time.

The Ravens are also expected to use their unbalanced line that puts tackles Willie Anderson, Gaither and Terry on the field at the same time, which proved to be an effective strategy against the Steelers.

"He's a great player," said Gaither, who didn't practice Wednesday due to the flu. "I'm looking forward to playing against him."

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