Since the dawn of civilization, humans have created myths and legends in an attempt to explain wonders and to aspire to greatness. Sports are one of the few bastions of modern mythology, and tales of legends and remarkable feats run rampant throughout football history and the NFL. As fans, we have heard, witnessed, and expect these incredible moments, people, and events. As such, players are thrust into the epic battles on the field and must not only face their opponents, but also the comparisons and repercussions of being held to such legendary standards.
The one ring to rule them all and transform good quarterbacks into the great ones; the Herculean task of creating a dynasty and perennial contender; the breakout rookie year that heralds a hall of fame career; the offensive line that tramples any who stand before them; the running back that would rule in any system, on any team, in any era.
As is common place in mythology, these are not just sagas of champions that never fail. They are also stories of the tragic heroes, those cursed and burdened for stealing from the Gods or daring to fly too high...and those martyrs that must face the insurmountable.
Anthony Spencer is the hero in one of these modern-day Greek tragedies. In the NFL, there is the myth of the dynamic pass-rushing duo. Every so often, a pair of pass-rushers rises above the competition and become a legendary force for their defense. The existence of these remarkable feats has created an expectation for fans. And beware ye who cannot live up to the challenge.
Though he broke out in the 2012 season with a career high eleven sacks, "Almost Anthony" has not been considered an adequate rusher by many fans over the years. In the previous three seasons, Spencer averaged about six sacks a year. As the NFL myth reveals, great pass-rushing teams have a dynamic duo. If the second rusher isn't pushing the double digit sack barrier, he is failing to live up to the legend...but is he failing to do his job?
Adding only more drama and conflict to this tragic hero's tale, Anthony Spencer is the second fiddle to a living God with a star on his helmet. With future, first ballot, Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware averaging 14 sacks a season over the past eight years, there is a giant shadow above and beyond the mythical idea of the dynamic duo looming over Spencer. He never had a chance.
While averaging over 60 tackles, 3 pass deflection and nearly as many forced fumbles, the fact remained that Spencer wasn't living up to the dynamic duo ideals with his modest 6 sacks those past three years. And now, Spencer is franchise tagged for a second time after a record setting year. Instead of returning home to a hero's welcome after achieving his remarkable feats, our tragic hero is again cursed as villain.
"Is he worth the money after only one good year?"
"Isn't he too old and weary to do it again?"
While the myth of the dynamic duo creates the illusion that provides validity to these questions, the truth may be that Anthony Spencer has been living up to his deal for years now.
First, we must acknowledge the existence of the myth. It is not true that a dominant pass-rush only exists with a dynamic duo in which each rusher pushes the double-digit sack mark, unless of course your criteria of a dominant pass-rush is stringent enough to allow only a couple of teams a year into the definition. In 2009, only two teams had two rushers with double-digit sacks. In 2010, three managed the mark, and in 2011, again, only two. 2012 breaks the mold with a whopping five teams accomplishing the feat...though only two of them made the playoffs.
Perhaps these few teams were truly the most elite pass-rushing defenses in the league?
2009 - PIT (2nd in total sacks) & WAS (8th in total sacks)
2010 - Pit (1st), NYG (5th), IND (23rd)
2011 - PHI (tied 1st) & NE (14th)
2012 - DEN (1st), St. Louis (2nd), CIN (3rd), CAR (9th), DAL (20th)
The truth is that NFL defenses are created to provide one particular rusher every advantage and the most opportunity to hit the quarterback. These players will almost always lead their team in sacks, not only because of their skill, but because the defense is designed to make it so. And a dominant pass-rush is not created by just two players.
Would it surprise you to know that 25% of the Top 15 pass-rushing duos in '12 were on teams that were actually ranked in the Bottom 15 in total sacks? Or that the Vikings ranked 5th in totals sacks but their pass-rushing duo combined for only 16.5 (the lowest of the Top 15 Duos)?
So, while the myth of the dynamic duo may be skewing our judgment on what constitutes a defense with a dominant pass-rush and what to expect from the team's second-best rusher...was Spencer really accomplishing anything with his six sack average?
If we look more in depth in the 2012 pass-rushing duos:
|Miller - 18.5||Atkins - 12.5||Johnson - 12.5||Ware - 11.5||Long - 11.5|
|Dumervil - 11||Johnson - 11.5||Hardy - 11||Spencer - 11||Quinn - 10.5|
|Watt - 20.5||Smith - 19.5||Wake - 15||Clemons - 11.5||Houston - 10|
|Smith - 7||Brooks - 6.5||Odrick - 5||Irvin - 8||Hali - 9|
|Peppers - 11.5||Matthews - 13||Avril - 9.5||Phillips - 9.5||Robinson - 8.5|
|Idonije - 7.5||Neal - 4.5||Suh - 8||Liuget - 7||Griffin - 8|
Clearly, six sacks a year from the second pass-rusher is nothing to be angry about.
Also, it appears that having one elite pass-rusher does not guarantee more sacks to the second member of the duo. In fact, it seems the opposite. While JJ Watt, Aldon Smith, Cameron Wake, and Clay Matthews were league leaders in sacks in 2012, it didn't seem to provide much benefit to the second rusher on their respective team. Actually, it appears to be the opposite.
While this may provide more firepower to Spencer critics, is it very surprising that the year Ware is greatly hampered by injury is also the year Spencer cracks the double digit barrier? Could it be that an elite pass-rusher actually "steals" sacks from the second rusher by getting to the quarterback faster?
Here's a very interesting trivia question. In the age of 3-4 defenses with the mythical dynamic-duo of rushing OLBs, how many made the Top 15 list?
Alas, myths are set in stone and Anthony Spencer will continue on his tragic tale, likely never to live up to expectations again. What do you think a good year for Spencer in '13 translates to in sacks?