Commentary

Boys will rely on hot pass rush vs. Favre

Key to solving wizened QB, making Vikings one-dimensional begins with pressure

Updated: January 16, 2010, 8:43 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- It's almost unfair to say Brett Favre has seen just about everything a defensive pass rush has used against him in his career.

On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys become the latest team to get after Favre in an NFC divisional game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.

What can the Cowboys do against Favre that he hasn't seen before? Do you trick things up or continue to do what you normally do?

"It's important to put pressure on any quarterback, especially Favre," Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said. "Favre's a really good quarterback and you can't just let him sit back there and pick you apart; he definitely will. We've got to get him off the spot and get him to move around a little bit."

Favre was sacked 34 times this season, tied for ninth-most in the league with the Cowboys' Tony Romo.

The Cowboys finished the 2009 season with 42 sacks, far fewer than their NFL-leading 59 in 2008. But the pass rush was strong in the last weeks of the regular season.

In the past five games, including the playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Cowboys registered 16 sacks.

The key hasn't been so much sending five and six defenders; sometimes the Cowboys send their normal four pass-rushers.

The star of that pass rush is outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, a four-time Pro Bowler, who led the team in sacks this season with 11. When teams halt Ware's progress, Spencer has been strong from the other outside linebacker spot.

After failing to register a sack the first 10 games of the season, Spencer finished with six sacks and 15 quarterback pressures in the last six weeks of the year.

Spencer has added another dimension to the defense. He provides help for Ware that now makes the Cowboys hard to contain on the outside pass rush.

And though he's undersized for a nose tackle, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Jay Ratliff was second on the team in sacks (seven) and fourth in quarterback pressures (33).

"When we look at this team, the train of thought is, 'Hey, you got any tips for playing Dallas? Yeah, block [Spencer] and [Ware] and [Ratliff] first, and go on from there,'" Favre said. "Easier said than done."

Favre, however, is good against the pass rush.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Favre was sacked a league-high 20 times this season when facing four or fewer pass-rushers.

But he also led the NFL in passer rating (112.2) and completion percentage (71.7) and threw 25 touchdown passes against such pressures, good for third in the league.

The Cowboys compiled 27 sacks -- third-most in the league -- when they rushed four.

Dallas' goal against Favre is to move him away from the pocket into mistakes on the move. The secondary also has to provide strong coverage if Favre is under duress.

When a quarterback is under pressure, receivers break off their routes and find open spots in the defense so a quarterback can hit them with passes. Doing this enough times could force the Vikings to rely on their running game, especially if Favre can't find open receivers. That might be a positive for the Cowboys since they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

"We have to make them one-dimensional," Ware said. "And we have to eliminate the big plays on offense because Brett feeds on the big plays. He has two or three big plays every game. His receivers run good routes and they can catch the ball and go the distance."

Whether this works is uncertain, especially with Favre's vast experience.

He's started 22 playoff games in his career, so to say he's seen everything could be an understatement.

That could either be a problem for the Cowboys if the 40-year-old gets on a roll, or for the Vikings, if Favre plays like an old quarterback in the postseason.

"It's one of those things, if you're on that team as a coach, I don't know if you really say." Favre said. "But inside, Wade Phillips has to be saying, 'OK, this is what we were building towards. We have to block these guys and contain them. If we have to throw the ball 40 to 50 times, we're probably in trouble.'"

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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