FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots had a complex game plan for Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware during Sunday's 20-16 victory at Gillette Stadium. There were stretches when it worked and other plays when Ware was simply the best player on the field.
While left tackle Matt Light took the brunt of the responsibility for him, the Patriots used 12 different blocking combinations on Ware, who has already become one of the historically great pass rushers in just six-plus seasons.
Ware was on the field for 62 of the Cowboys' 70 defensive snaps, and he was certainly productive, registering two sacks, a tackle for loss and three pressures on the quarterback. He was on the right side of the defense (Tom Brady's blind side) 46 times and the left side of the defense 16 times.
Let's break down Ware's 62 snaps:
Blocked one-on-one by Light: 25 snaps, including one when running back Danny Woodhead shadowed Light before releasing into a pattern (one sack, two pressures)
Blocked by Light and left guard Logan Mankins: 6 snaps
Blocked one-on-one by tight end Rob Gronkowski: 6 snaps (one tackle for loss on BenJarvus Green-Ellis)
Blocked by no one (when the Patriots ran the ball away from him): 5 snaps
Blocked by right tackle Nate Solder and right guard Brian Waters: 4 snaps (one pressure resulted in an interception)
Blocked one-on-one by Solder: 3 snaps
Blocked by Light and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 3 snaps (one sack)
Ware dropped into coverage: 3 snaps
Ware jammed Gronkowski before rushing the passer: 2 snaps
Blocked by Solder and Gronkowski: 1 snap
Blocked by Light and Gronkowski: 1 snap
Blocked by Waters and Gronkowski: 1 snap
Blocked by tight end Aaron Hernandez: 1 snap
Blocked by tight end Dan Gronkowski: 1 snap
To break it down even further, the Patriots had a one-on-one assignment for Ware on 36 plays, and they double-teamed him 16 times (the other 10 snaps included five in which he was unblocked, three drops into coverage and two jams on Gronkowski).
Let's go through some other notes:
Aside from Light's 25 one-on-one assignments, he received help 10 times.
Aside from Solder's three one-on-one assignments, he received help five times.
Rob Gronkowski was in on nine total blocking assignments, not including the two times when he was jammed.
Ware opened the game on the left side of the defense, lining up there on six of his first seven snaps.
Gronkowski motioned in tight to Ware once, chipped him at the line then slipped into a screen pattern for a 20-yard gain.
Ware came off the field for the last two snaps of the Patriots' first touchdown drive because the Patriots were running the no-huddle and had the Cowboys gassed. Brady snuck for a first down and then threw the touchdown pass to Wes Welker.
Ware left the game for one play at the end of the Patriots' initial third-quarter drive after suffering an injury to his right knee or ankle.
The Patriots ran four plays after Anthony Spencer's penalty for running into punter Zoltan Mesko. Ware wasn't on the field for any of them.
Ware mixed it up a lot more in the fourth quarter, when he was also at his best. On the Patriots' initial drive of the quarter, Ware won a one-sided chess match with Solder during the last two plays. On first down, Ware rushed to Solder's inside for the first time in the game while there was a corner blitz on the same side of the field, and Brady immediately threw it away. On the next play, Ware rushed back to the outside, and Waters had to move over to help. Ware's pressure from that side forced Brady to roll out of the pocket and make a poor throw off his back foot that was intercepted.
During the Patriots' fourth-quarter three-and-out, Ware helped disrupt the play that turned into Green-Ellis' three-yard loss. Ware started by lining up over Mankins but switched sides to line up over Waters, which drew Gronkowski's attention as he shifted closer to the backfield. Gronkowski then tried to help Waters while linebacker Sean Lee broke through the left side of the line to take down Green-Ellis. That play was a mess for the Patriots, and Ware's motion might have caused some miscommunication.
Light allowed consecutive pressures to Ware during the Patriots' game-winning drive. On the following play, Light hurt his right ankle or knee as Brady snuck for a first down. Light took Ware one-on-one during the next snap but clearly struggled. Give Light a ton of credit there because if he stayed on the ground due to the injury, the Patriots would have been charged their final timeout.
After Light struggled with the injury, Mankins helped him on the final two plays of the drive. Also, the Patriots didn't have a true backup tackle active for Sunday's game, so Light was basically stuck during that series.