The Cowboys rank fourth in total defense and lead the league in sacks. That's a far cry from last season when they ranked as the worst in team history. But it's not far off the 2009 team that was one of the franchise's best.
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who leads the league in sacks with four, said this year's unit has the potential to be even better than two years ago.
"I think we are better than any defense we have had here," Ware said. "We have had some good defenses, but this is totally different. We are playing fundamentally sound and not making a lot of mistakes with what we got. We have a lot of guys hurt and not out there, and we are playing really well."
The Cowboys have been helped by the emergence of defensive end Jason Hatcher, who had two sacks against the 49ers, and the re-emergence of Anthony Spencer, who has two sacks, two quarterback pressures and a tackle for loss.
Ware said the unpredictability of the defense is the reason they are allowing only 283 yards per game.
"We've got a lot of guys that can rush the passer and stop the run," Ware said. "We've got guys that can move. Usually in the 3-4, you've got three big lineman and four big linebackers and corners that cover. Now, we've got guys up front. We are not the big bulky guys in the 3-4. We've got guys that can slant a little more and make the offensive line think is he coming underneath or he is going to stay right there. Or is [nose tackle] Jay [Ratliff] actually dropping this play? It makes you think."
Ware is on pace for 32 sacks this season. Although he hopes to keep up that pace, he knows realistically, that isn't going to happen. His career best was 20 in 2008. He also led the league last season, with 15.5.
"In the latter part of the season, they know what they are in store for," Ware said of opposing offenses. "Now, they don’t know where I am. But it could lead to something more, because we are so unpredictable. Usually, they would say he plays the right side. He has had 10 sacks. We are going to focus our blocking there. But when you play the left, the middle, the right, you don’t know where I am coming from. It's exciting. If it's going good now, it could be better later."
-- Charean Williams