NFC East Rivals: Defensive Line

Posted: September 07, 2009

Cowboys

Yes, the Cowboys led the NFL with 59 in sacks in 2008, but don't thank their defensive line. The real pass rush out of the Cowboys' 3-4 formation came from behind: LB DeMarcus Ware led the NFL with 20 sacks and LBs Bradie James and Greg Ellis (now gone) each had eight. This season, don't expect Marcus Spears or new addition Igor Olshansky to get in the faces of opposing QBs much, although they've been known to stuff the run. The star in the middle of the Dallas defensive line is athletic nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who had 71/2 sacks and a team-high 31 quarterback pressures last season. J-Rat made the Pro Bowl in his first full season at the inside position. Now, opposing lines are paying attention and he probably will face more double teams.

Giants

The big news: DE Osi Umenyiora is back. Uh, hold on. OK, now he's back. Giants fans will soon forget that the star of their D-line went AWOL for a day during the preseason, after he was criticized by new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. What Umenyiora is really back from is torn lateral meniscus cartilage that kept him out for all of 2008 (though Eagle fans won't soon forget his six sacks vs. Philadelphia in September 2007). His return adds immense depth to a line whose breakdown contributed to the Giants' stretch-run collapse last season. With Umenyiora and Juston Tuck on the ends, tenacious former starter Mathias Kiwanuka will rotate in as backup. At tackle, Barry Cofield and Chris Canty can be spelled by Fred Robbins and Rocky Bernard. The Giants hope the deep bench will keep the defensive pressure high at least through their second meeting with the Eagles, on Dec. 13.

Redskins

New Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth nearly had an instant impact on the 2009 season before it started, when he pancaked Patriots QB Tom Brady out of an exhibition game with a crunching hit. Brady looks fine now, and the Redskins hope Haynesworth makes an impact when the games count, since they brought him to Washington with a seven-year, $100 million contract that made him the league's highest-paid defensive player. Haynesworth, who wreaks havoc in opposing backfields and shuts down the middle to runners, is sure to draw double teams. That ought to give ends Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter more opportunities to penetrate, and Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache may be able to limit his blitzes, freeing the secondary for better pass coverage.

- Don Steinberg

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