Ware-Phillips reunion leads to Broncos sacks brigade
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Every Thursday night, DeMarcus Ware pours himself a glass of 1982 Gruaud Larose, a red Bordeaux from his birth year, to enjoy with a nice Porterhouse steak.
”It’s pretty expensive,” Ware said. ”And it tastes good.”
It’s both a toast to his reunion with Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and a cheat day on his diet that has him down to 245 pounds. That’s 20 pounds lighter than when he was with Phillips in Dallas.
With an NFL-best 4 1-2 sacks, Ware is the leader of Denver’s sacks brigade that’s wrangled 18 sacks so far, putting the unbeaten Broncos (4-0) on pace to tie the NFL record of 72 set by the 1984 Chicago Bears.
The 68-year-old Phillips has turned loose a defense loaded with five Pro Bowlers that’s produced 11 takeaways and bought Peyton Manning and Gary Kubiak more time to tune up a hybrid offense that’s more fuel efficient than high octane.
”Some coaches send the kitchen sink at you where you have to think so much before every play, but he makes it simple for us,” Ware said.
”So, now you can read your keys a lot more, you can study a lot more film, you can figure out how they’re going to attack you. So, no matter what defense we run, we know how they’re going to attack us and we can be aggressive.”
Phillips’ predecessor, Jack Del Rio, now head coach of the Raiders (2-2), whom the Broncos play Sunday, wasn’t this aggressive with largely the same personnel last year, when Ware had one sack over his last seven games.
”They’re playing really well together, a lot of confidence,” Del Rio said. ”… The last three years we played some great ball there. (I’ve) got some great memories of us playing really well. They’ve taken that to a whole other level.”
”Wade just puts the best players in position to do what they do best,” defensive end Antonio Smith said. ”And when you do that and you’re successful at it, it just makes it fun. And when playing defense is fun, you’ll be playing harder than you ever knew you could play by accident than you ever have on purpose.”
This group is sure having a blast.
Returning to the 3-4 defense under Phillips, who helped him average 16 sacks in their four years together with the Cowboys, a rejuvenated Ware is playing like a man much younger than 33.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ware also leads the NFL with 25 quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), one ahead of teammate Von Miller.
The two have even lined up over center at times, but Ware said he’s not sure if the snapper is ever surprised when he looks up.
”Hopefully by the time he picks his head up the ball is snapped and I’m past him,” Ware said.
Usually, he has been.
Ware and Miller have had plenty of company in opponents’ backfields as Phillips sends waves of pressure at the passer. Nine of their teammates have at least one sack.
So, what makes a good pass rush? It’s more than just talent and timing.
”Athleticism, speed and power, heart, effort and knowledge,” said Fred Pagac, who coaches the Broncos’ outside linebackers. ”Everything’s tied together. Great rushes and coverage ties together. Hey, whenever somebody gets a sack, everybody’s happy. When you get a sack, normally you had 11 guys playing pretty damn good on that play.
”Normally it’s a drive-stopper and that’s what you’re trying to do, get off the field, but there’s a lot of things that go into that sack. You’ve got to get them into a passing situation in the first place.”
So, stuffing the run is as much an ingredient in a good pass rush as anything else.
Safety T.J. Ward, whose sack-strip of Teddy Bridgewater sealed Denver’s 23-20 win over Minnesota last week, has especially benefited from the change in defensive coordinators. He praises Phillips for ”using me exactly how I wish to be used,” namely, on the blitz.
”I love it,” Ward said. ”It allows me to make a lot of plays at a lot of different positions and it allows everybody else to make plays.”
Miller said Ware’s leadership in the locker room and film room pay off on the field. He’s an attention-to-detail guy, seeking the tiniest of tip-offs, even a twitch.
”He does enough studying for about four or five of us,” Miller said. ”It definitely helps me, and not only me, but everybody in the meeting room. He’ll watch film for like three or four plays and he’ll have a tendency right there. He’ll be like, `The quarterback is lifting his hands.”’
Which, come Sunday, usually means that QB will be picking himself up off the ground aplenty.
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