On paper, there seems to be little hope for the beleaguered Dallas Cowboys’ pass defense on Sunday night.
Already on pace to set a team record in passing yards allowed while becoming one of the worst in league history — and having been eviscerated by an NFL-record four 400-yard passers — the Cowboys get Drew Brees and the pass-happy New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.
The Cowboys, buoyed by the return of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, say they are ready for this latest test.
Ware practiced Wednesday for the first time since suffering a strained quadriceps against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 13. He missed the past three games.
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As the Cowboys all-time leader in sacks and one of the league’s premier rushers, Ware’s ability to pressure the quarterback is key to any plan to contain Brees and the Saints.
“Well, there’s no doubt it makes everybody better because we’re getting there,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “Anybody will tell you that with a front four with a guy as dominant as him, I think it helps you overall.”
Cornerback Brandon Carr said: “It helps to have some of your weapons coming back and coming back healthy, especially guys up front, getting after the quarterback. Ware, that’s his specialty. So any pressure we can get up front is going to help us cover better and less time to cover.”
Ware, a nine-year veteran who has been called Superman by owner Jerry Jones, might not be at 100 percent Sunday. He’ll still need help.
It’s going to take a complete and much-improved effort by a still banged-up and inexperienced defense, which has been playing short-handed all season.
Starting safety J.J. Wilcox and third cornerback Morris Claiborne will not play because of injuries.
Standout defensive tackle Jason Hatcher is questionable because of a stinger. Hatcher, who leads the team in sacks with seven, didn’t practice Wednesday and will be less than 100 percent if he plays.
That still doesn’t address the problems the Cowboys have had all season against elite passers.
New York’s Eli Manning passed for 450 yards in Week 1. San Diego’s Philip Rivers went for 401 in Week 4, followed by Denver’s Peyton Manning’s 414 in Week 5. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford topped them all in Week 8 with 488 yards.
The Cowboys lost every game except the opener.
Enter Brees, a seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time league offensive player of the year and former Super Bowl MVP.
He holds the NFL record for passing yards in a season, the most 300-yard passing games in a season and is the fastest player in NFL history to reach 40,000 yards passing.
The 13-year veteran has completed 213 of 322 passes for 2,672 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is the second-ranked quarterback in the NFL behind Manning.
“Yes, it’s another test for us,” Carr said. “The numbers don’t lie. You see the quarterbacks we have faced that were the elite quarterbacks of the NFL. They have pretty much had their way passing the ball on us. The good thing about this is we have another opportunity to come out here and redeem ourselves and to make a statement from this point on — what we can do as a defense, what we can do against the pass.”
The New York Jets gave the Cowboys somewhat of a blueprint last week in a 26-20 victory against the Saints. They pressured Brees into two interceptions and controlled the clock with their running game. Of course, the Cowboys haven’t had any success running the ball and this game will be in New Orleans.
The Cowboys have hope in the return of Ware.
“He’s such a stud,” Brees said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to have a plan for at all times. Where is he? How you attack him? How you take care of him? All that stuff. You know the leadership he brings. You know the productivity that he brings. He’s just a game-changer, so you’ve always got to be ready for him.”