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Anthony Spencer: 'Almost' No Longer?

Having seen the main offseason phases of free agency and the draft come and go, the one thing that seems to be true is that the Cowboys have, at least on paper, improved their secondary considerably. With the additions of Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and Brodney Pool, I doubt there is a single Cowboys fan out there who would rather have last year's secondary or even the secondary of the 2009 Dallas Cowboys over the one we have currently. Given this fact, it seems like a great time to discuss the ever-popular topic of Anthony Spencer.

Throughout his career, Anthony Spencer has earned his nickname 'Almost' for a reason. Infamous for reaching the QB just after the ball is thrown, Spencer has never recorded more than six sacks in a single season. Some still cling to his great string of games at the end of 2009, but a disappointing season in 2010 and an only slightly better 2011 quickly have killed the idea that Spencer is ever going to be the Lamar Woodley to Ware's James Harrison.

On these boards, I have been a huge proponent of cutting ties with Spencer rather than franchising him or signing him to a long-term deal. I find him largely to be mediocre as far as SOLBs for 3-4 defense are concerned (specifically in pass rushing), and I do not buy the idea that his responsibilities are such that they prevent him from getting to the QB at a good clip. I could go into great detail about why, but suffice to say that that is how I feel. In this era of the NFL where passing reigns king, I just am not comfortable with my SOLB having a career high of six sacks.

In debating this topic with others though, one of the constant themes that always appears is whether it is the surrounding cast of the defense that has cost Spencer. This line of thinking usually reasons that if Spencer could only get another second's worth of coverage from the secondary, he would have a lot more sacks. This improvement in the secondary, they say, would transform Spencer from 'Almost' Anthony into something much closer to the best pass rusher in the league (also known as DeMarcus Ware).

For me personally, I don't really buy into this logic. After all, last year Demarcus Ware managed to nab 19.5 sacks despite the secondary around him. Jared Allen managed to notch 22 sacks with one of the worst secondaries in the league. Although it seems to make sense from a pure field perspective, I don't think a better secondary will necessarily lead to increased sack totals. This could be explained by the fact that teams gameplan differently for teams with better secondaries so as to ensure that their QB is not taking 5-step drops waiting on a WR to break open from a field full of cover corners. In addition, teams intimidated by a team's corners can likely find different ways to neutralize that advantage such as targeting their TEs or RBs more often if they are in better matchups (something Dallas is all to familiar with the other team doing) or just straight running the football.

Plus, applying this logic to Ware, do we really think that this better secondary will propel him to a level never before reached by a pass rusher? It's possible, but I don't think I would bet too much money on it. I will of course admit though that I would love to see my favorite Cowboy become the first player to notch two 20 sack seasons. That stat would look pretty nice on his bust in Canton.

Anyways, I am interested as to what others think. Personally, I predict a similar 2012 for Anthony Spencer to 2010 and 2011. He has been remarkably consistent with six, five, and six the last three seasons and I can't see him spiking to eight or more, no matter how much better our secondary is. In my mind, six sacks is exactly what I think Spencer will produce this year. Like I said though, that is just my take. What do you guys think? Will 'Almost' Anthony Spencer be what we see in 2012 or will we see a new and improved Anthony Spencer?

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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