Instead of forcing game balls on an unproductive game against the Packers, I went back to take a look at one player who did have a productive game for the Cowboys: Anthony Spencer.
The Dallas rush defense in now ranked 10th in the league, allowing just over 103 YPG. Spencer is a big part of that. Often playing next to Marcus Spears with Keith Brooking behind him, Spencer rounds out the trio to provide the Cowboys with a physical presence that attacks opposing offense's strong side.
In Green Bay, Coach Phillips would sometimes line up Spencer across from the slot receiver and rush him at the quarterback. When he and DeMarcus Ware would flip, he often began in a three-point stance. Sometimes, he would backpedal from his stance to cover the short zone. On at least one occasion, Ware lined up next to him.
Obviously, moving Spencer around is a direct result of Phillips trying to get the best possible mismatches for Ware. Although Spencer still does not have a sack on the season, he is continuing to match Ware in quarterback pressures and is dropping running backs for losses.
On the Packers' second offensive drive, Spencer dropped back into a short zone coverage, read the HB-screen to Ryan Grant and darted forward to drop the RB for a one-yard loss. On the very next play, he collapsed the pocket by overpowering the LT and forced Aaron Rodgers to scramble. He ended up tackling Rodgers for a two-yard gain.
Make the jump.
Towards the end of the first quarter, up against the RT, it was his hit on Rodgers that forced a pass incompletion. So close to a sack, Anthony...again, so close.
In the second quarter, he showed what makes him such a solid strongside OLB. Using the weight and momentum of the Packers' tackle, he used an olé move to push him to the ground and ended up crashing into Grant. On the next play, he did a nice job in disguising a blitz, and then backpedaled quickly into covering the short zone. It was in this quarter that I noticed the Packers began using a RB to chip him when it became obvious that the RT was having problems with him.
In this game, Spencer also showed great hustle and athleticism to complement his physical style of play. This proved evident on the drive just before the half when, after failing to create a pass rush, he peeled off to sprint 20 yards downfield to make the tackle on Donald Driver. The other Dallas defenders were having a tough time getting Driver to the ground. The play may not have saved any points on the scoreboard, but it prevented any Brandon Marshall-type magic.
Spencer always seems just a step away from single-handedly owning a series or two. During one drive in the second quarter, he nearly had Grant two yards behind the line of scrimmage. It's too bad Grant was able to slip through his grasp because he ended up gaining 13 yards and a first down. Just two plays later, though, Spencer showed off his quickness by splitting the TE and RT to drop Grant for a two-yard loss. On several passing plays, he got his hands up in the lanes, but was inches away from blocking the throw.
On the day, Spencer registered 10 tackles with two going for losses. Indeed, that is a solid game for a strongside linebacker.
How many times have we each said, "if only he were there a split second sooner"? He could have some sacks, perhaps some forced fumbles, a pass or two batted in the air that leads to a pick-six, a pick-six or two of his own. In defensive battles like we witnessed on Sunday, such a play could change the outcome of the game. At the very least, it would have given the Cowboys the momentum they failed to muster.
If only...if only...if only Anthony Spencer can make those one or two big plays per game that he is so close to making. It would help add a another playmaking presence to an already improving defense. As the Cowboys enter their stretch run, another big-time playmaker on defense could make for a dominant unit.
Hopefully, he'll be able to get his first sack in this upcoming contest against the Redskins. If so, as we've seen with DeMarcus Ware earlier this season, that may be all it takes for the sack-floodgates to open.