IRVING, Texas (AP) --The Dallas Cowboys defense broke through with its first sacks of the season Monday night against Carolina.
Now it's DeMarcus Ware's turn.
The reigning NFL sack leader is in a four-game drought that's his longest since his 2005 rookie season. He led the league with 20 last year.
Dallas finished with three sacks and shut down the Panthers in the second half of a 21-7 victory. Ware didn't get any, but nose tackle Jay Ratliff says he might as well have.
DeMarcus is a great player,'' Ratliff said.If any of us get a sack it's because they're focusing on him and opening up one-on-one for us.''
Case in point: rookie linebacker Victor Butler. In just five snaps against the Panthers, Butler had two sacks and the second one resulted in a Jake Delhomme fumble late in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys are a long way from worried about their biggest pass-rushing threat as they prepare for a visit Sunday to undefeated Denver. Last week, coach Wade Phillips' message was,
The defense will be fine.'' Now, his message is,DeMarcus will be fine.''
I don't think he'll get discouraged,'' Phillips said.He might get mad. One time ... he knocked the back right on his rear and we got there and the guy threw it.''
Ware's teammates say that's happened more than once. His backup, Steve Octavien, said quarterbacks are taking shorter drops and linemen are doing everything they can to slow him.
They're strategizing,'' Octavien said.They know what to do. They're doing all kinds of things to try to slow him down for like 2 seconds. Once that door opens up and he gets a sack, they'd better watch out because I know the sacks will start coming then.''
Going into the game, the Cowboys were the only team in the league without a sack or an interception. They had three of each against the Panthers.
``He'll be fine, just like I said the defense will be fine,'' Phillips said of Ware.
The attention isn't a surprise to Ware. He said before the season he knew it was coming. Even then, he said he wanted to improve his sack total for the fifth time in five NFL seasons.
Doing so would mean threatening Michael Strahan's NFL record of 221/2, but now even the two-year record of 41 by Mark Gastineau in 1983-84 will be tough.
Still, Ware's two-year total of 34 before this year was the best in 20 years. His 531/2 sacks at the start of the season were the most in the NFL since Bill Parcells made him the 11th pick in 2005.
The way he plays, he could get three in three plays,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.It just hasn't fallen for him. He's had a couple of them that he easily could have brought them down and made the sack. He's playing good.''
Ware might be missing former pass-rushing partner Greg Ellis, the Cowboys' sack leader before Ware took charge. Dallas dumped Ellis in the offseason, apparently weary of his persistent harping about his contract, his playing time or both.
Ellis already has three sacks with the Raiders, while Anthony Spencer has none as his replacement in Dallas. Butler had both his sacks while subbing for Spencer.
Phillips, the former coach in Denver, warned that the sack struggle could return against the Broncos.
Denver was the least-sacked team in the league last year and they've only been sacked three times in three games,'' he said.It's going to be hard to get to a team like that, but you've got to do the other things and that's put the pressure on them and also get turnovers.''
In other words, Ware might have to be patient at least one more game.