DeMarcus Ware versus the read-option

I'm so glad Matt Bowen writes for us now. I've been a fan of his work elsewhere for a long time. Former NFL player who can write and who understands (a) what fans want to read about (b) the way in which his former-player perspective can help illuminate it for them and (c) how to deliver it. Not that we didn't already have people here at ESPN who fit that description, mind you. It's just that I always thought Matt was something of a lesser-known gem, and I'm glad he's on the team.

Matt's latest Insider pieceInsider takes up the vexing topic of how to stop Dallas Cowboys edge rusher DeMarcus Ware. As Matt points out, the 111 sacks Ware has piled up in his first eight NFL seasons indicate that this is not an answer anyone actually has. But Matt's analysis offers ways in which Ware can be dealt with, including six-man and seven-man protections, run-game traps and empty backfield sets that historically have prompted Monte Kiffin defenses to audible to a Cover 2 shell that offers a quarterback opportunities to unload the ball before Ware gets to him.

Most interesting, though -- in light of Robert Griffin III and whatever Chip Kelly's cooking up in Philadelphia -- is Matt's section on Ware vs. the read-option:

Ware (and the Cowboys' defense) struggled against RG III and the Redskins last season in the Week 17 loss because of the read-option. Playing as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, Ware was hesitant on the edge, didn't attack the dive and opened up clear running lanes for Alfred Morris.

As Ware transitions to the 4-3, he will still be the primary read for option quarterbacks (read: edge man on the line of scrimmage) as they ride the running back through the mesh point. And, although I believe NFL defenses will be much more prepared to play (and produce) versus the various option schemes out of the gun and pistol alignments this season, running it is still another way to slow down Ware's first step.

This gets to the heart of why the read-option is so effective. Ware is a tremendous player -- a peerless pass-rusher who's also strong against the run. And yet he still struggles against the read-option because of the very nature of it. Attack the quarterback and he hands it off. Sit back, and RG III is sprinting past you before you can make your move. It's entirely possible defensive coaches will find some way to slow down the read-option offenses this year, but it's no sure thing that even the best defensive players won't get caught flat-footed against it. At bottom, it still forces the edge rusher to make a choice, and offers the opposing quarterback the chance to wait to see which choice he makes. They don't come any better than Ware, but even he has a tough task ahead of him in trying to figure out how to succeed against this new wrinkle.