BENGALS LT ANDREW WHITWORTH VS. COWBOYS OLB DeMARCUS WARE
Dave Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst who played every spot on the offensive line during 10 seasons with the club, can't think of anyone pass rushing in the NFL right now that reminds him of Ware. He has to go all the way back to his teammate from nearly 40 years ago in Coy Bacon.
"Some guys have natural pass-rush instincts," Lapham says. "There are guys when they're making moves, they're not gaining ground. But when Ware is moving, he's advancing to the quarterback. He's attacking at the same time. When you have guys like that, they're tough to block."
Unlike Whitworth's AFC North skirmishes with Terrell Suggs and James Harrison, occasional AFC showdowns with Dwight Freeney, and Olympiad matchups with NFC heavyweight Jason Pierre-Paul, this one is a friendly backyard brawl. Whitworth won't have to pick up any fighting fines after this one, but a dinner tab might be on the line.
There aren't many of these where Whitworth started the week of preparation talking to his rival. He got the text from Ware on Monday night and then a quick follow-up call.
"He just said he's coming to see my big (butt)," Whitworth says. "We talked for a minute. We're good friends. Great guy. We said we're going to get after it."
Whitworth and Ware don't go as far back as Coy Bacon, but it sure seems like a long time for Whitworth since they first played one another when he was at LSU and Ware was at Troy. Whitworth remembers virtually nothing about that game, except that Ware isn't the toughest guy he blocked in college. That would be future Bengals No. 1 pick David Pollack.
Since then Whitworth and Ware have become friends through their connection as NFL Players Association representatives, as well as former Cowboys linebacker Bradie James, Whitworth's boyhood friend. Plus, during Whitworth's first two years in the NFL he spent his offseasons in Dallas.
"He's the best, no question. He's the best," Whitworth says. "It's not much different. Even if I didn't know DeMarcus, I know the challenge that is ahead. I know what kind of guy he is. He's a tremendous guy, tremendous character and he's going to play 180 miles an hour the entire game. That's just his style; you'll have your hands full."
The numbers say Whitworth, playing his last game before turning 31, isn't just covering for a friend. Ware, 30, and in his eighth season, has 10 sacks for the seventh straight year and earlier this season he became second only to Hall of Famer Reggie White with 85 sacks in his first 100 games.
If you don't like numbers, plenty of people still like Ware's tape. Profootballfocus.com rates him as the NFL's top pass rusher among 3-4 outside backers. The Web site ranks him second with 27 QB hurries and fourth with nine QB hits.
Whitworth is also rated highly by The Focus, currently residing second in pass blocking by tackles behind only Denver's Ryan Clady.
And Ware is due. It’s the first time this season he's coming off a two-game stretch he hasn't had at least half a sack.
The 6-4, 254-pound Ware didn't face the 6-7, 325-pound Whitworth the last time the clubs met in Dallas in 2008 because Whitworth was playing guard and Whitworth says the LSU-Troy tape would be worthless because they're two different guys now.
"I don't know if you take anything away from him; you just have to block him," Whitworth says. "I think he plays a lot like Terrell Suggs except he has a higher motor and probably a touch faster. He's got some speed to him. There's not a pass rush move he doesn't have."
Lapham says he can't categorize Ware.
"He's a rare bird," Lapham says. "He can speed, he can power. If he thinks you're setting too soft, he can bull you. He's got the whole package; that's why he's so unique. I think he's his own guy. He's got some length to him. He's a freakazoid."
Whitworth has won enough of these matchups with his steel-belted fundamentals to garner Pro Bowl respect among his peers and Lapham says he'll have to turn to them again.
"Whit has to rely on his technique and he does that as well as anybody," Lapham says. "You can't lose your mind if things go poorly on one or two snaps. You can't lose your technique. You just have to make sure you're sound in everything you do and be competitive with a guy like that. He'll make a play or two potentially. That's the life of an offensive lineman. Whit could block him 40 times and if he gives up a sack it's "Wow, Ware was unbelievable.' "
Part of Whitworth's technique is kicking out his outside leg at the snap so he can cut off the quickest lane to the quarterback. Last Sunday in San Diego he was called once for doing it just before the snap and got a false start.
"I don't think anybody watching the film will be able to tell it's a false start or not," Whitworth says. "You can actually see that I move at the same time as everybody else on the line of scrimmage."
Ware is built a little like Pierre-Paul, a leading sack threat that Whitworth blanked when the Bengals shut out the Giants on sacks. Whitworth says the O-line as a whole will have to play as well as it did back in the Nov. 11 game that started the four-game winning streak.
"It will be like the Giants game; they're all talented guys up front," Whitworth says of the Cowboys. "They're also a lot like the team we just played. San Diego has good edge rushers and powerful guys in the interior."
But none of them had Ware, the guy in Whitworth's phone.
"We'll have some fun," Whitworth says, "and play hard."