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Spotlight On Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Anthony Spencer

An All-22 breakdown of every play by Dallas's Anthony Spencer in Sunday's win over Seattle

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports


That's really all I can say. Wow. I've always known that Anthony Spencer was a good player. But I never realized how good until I broke down the tape against Seattle. He didn't collect any sacks, but Spencer was about as dominant a force as could possibly be, especially in the first half. Let's look at the tape:

Please Note: Spencer didn't play every snap; instead of listing every play and writing that he wasn't in, I'll be skipping any play Spencer wasn't a part of.

Play 2: Except for this play. Spencer isn't in the game here, but George Selvie does an excellent job demonstrating how Dallas was able to play so much man coverage and still hold Russell Wilson's scrambles in check.

play 2 (1)

play 2 (2)

Notice how Selvie, (yellow arrow), stays parallel to the line of scrimmage? He has a free shot to the QB, but instead of charging in he holds his position. This is what killed DeMarcus Ware against RGIII, he would have a free run, slant in, and RGIII would get depth and bootleg outside of him. Selvie is having none of that.

play 2 (3)

Selvie is holding his ground all the way through the hand-off, to prevent the quarterback keep on the read option.

play 2 (4)

Now that he has seen the handoff Selvie engages in pursuit. Notice how Wilson is faking the keep? Selvie doesn't bite, he's played with discipline and has followed the ball the entire play.

play 2 (5)

And here he shows his hustle. That's George Selvie in the circle, taking down the running back. That is how you beat a scrambling quarterback; you maintain lane discipline and trust your teammates to do the same. The defense strung the run out far enough to the sideline that Selvie was able to come across from the backside and make the play.

Play 3: First play in for Anthony Spencer. He gets a good initial push against the tackle, but it's a quick three step drop and throw.

Play 6: And here is the first impact play from Spencer. Right off the bat, Marinelli is giving us something unusual, as both defensive tackles are lined up as three-techniques (red arrows), with Spencer as the SDE (yellow circle).

play 6(1)

Spencer gets a great jump and engages the tackle before the tackle can get set in his stance. In the picture below you can see how narrow a base the tackle has, and that his knees are bent inwards; he's not set:

play 6 (2)

The offensive guard sees how badly the tackle is getting beat and disengages from Henry Melton to come and give help on Spencer. This allows Melton to loop behind Spencer and around both offensive linemen. Meanwhile Spencer has already driven the tackle past the guard coming over to help, leaving the guard blocking nobody.

play 6 (3)

Spencer then gets off the tackle's block, giving both Melton and Spencer a free run at Russell Wilson:

play 6 (4)

Wilson gets the ball off (this is the long completion on the pick play), but not before this happens:

play 6 (5)

That circle is Melton taking Wilson to the ground. It was a big hit early on, and may have played a part in Wilson's off game by rattling him. And all because Spencer got a good jump off the snap.

Play 7: Another wrinkle by Marinelli, and something that happens quite a bit in the game, Spencer playing as a stand up rusher. He puts a good swim move on the tackle, but it's a quick throw by Wilson.

play 7 (1)

play 7 (2)

Play 10: This was the first play that really made me say wow and is the beginning of a really amazing run of plays. We see Spencer lined up as the SDE:

play 10 (1)

The play doesn't really start that well for Spencer; he attempts a spin move that doesn't really work and ends with his back to the QB, but is able to right himself and begins to get some decent pressure:

play 10 (4)

play 10 (5)

This is where it gets real. Spencer sees Wilson drifting to the right, and is able to spin out of the double team:

play 10 (6)

He then proceeds to chase Russell Wilson down. From behind. Notice the red line, and how it shrinks:

play 10 (7)

play 10 (8)

Until there is no red line, just Wilson and Spencer wrapped up tightly in a yellow circle:

play 10 (9)

Let me remind you all, Spencer is not yet fully healthy, and is coming back from a fairly devastating knee injury. And he just chased down one of the most mobile QB's in the league. Let me say it again; wow.

Play 11: And if anything, this play is even more impressive. Let's start off by noting that Seattle is doubling every defensive lineman except Jeremy Mincey:

play 11 (1)

It doesn't matter to Spencer. He simply walks his double-team back using pure power. Check out the red line; Spencer is almost even with Russell Wilson at the end of Wilson's initial drop; even though Wilson is just dropping back, and Spencer is fighting through a double team:

play 11 (2)

Next we see Spencer start to collapse the pocket inward. Again let's please note; there are seven Seahawks blocking four rushmen, leaving seven Dallas players in coverage against three receivers. May the odds be ever in your favor...

play 11 (3)

Russell Wilson doesn't like how close Spencer is getting so he starts to scramble to his right. Spencer gets off the double team and rolls with him, keeping contain:

play 11 (4)

Spencer somehow manages to get to the outside of Wilson, forcing him back in. Meanwhile, in the yellow circle, Dallas's rushmen are getting off their blocks and closing in:

play 11 (4)

Eventually leading to a pocket that looks like this. Remember, this was a play that began with nearly every Dallas defensive lineman being double teamed. Somehow Wilson manages to get rid of the ball as he's being brought down:

play 11 (6)

Play 12: Spencer is lined up at SDE. Run play up the middle, Spencer beats the tackle with a swim move, crashes down the line and gets in on the tackle. Minimal gain.

Play 13: False start, offense.

Play 14: Spencer lines up as a standup rusher. Uses speed to beat the tackle around the edge and forces Wilson to scramble for a short gain.

play 14 (2)

play 14 (3)

Play 18: Another interesting formation in Marinelli's bag of tricks, with Spencer lining up in the 3-tech spot, standing up:

play 18

Spencer initially beats the double team with a nifty move; instead of rushing straight into the double he feels it, steps back, then sidesteps inside and swims away from the double. This is all for nothing though, as the Seahawks do an excellent job of picking him up and passing him all the way down the line to the center, where he gets bogged down in the wash of bodies.

Play 25: This is an interesting play, mainly because it looks like Dallas is lined up in a 3-4 defense, with Spencer as the SOLB:

play 25

Unfortunately Spencer can't muster much of a rush on the play, as he attempts to bullrush the tackle who gets a good "seat" and doesn't budge.

Play 26: Similar formation as the last play, except in nickel. Spencer gets good pressure using a speed rush, but it's a quick throw by Wilson.

Play 27: This is the QB scramble for a touchdown. Spencer does a good job holding his edge, as the tackle is unable to move him off the line, but the ball goes the other way.

Play 28: Spencer crashes inside, Seattle runs up the middle.

Play 29: Spencer is playing as a stand up rusher. Seattle runs play action. Spencer is quick off the snap and makes the tackle miss his initial punch with a nifty move outside:

play 29

Spencer gets great pressure on the play, and almost (see what I did there!) gets a sack:

play 29 (2)

play 29 (4)

Wilson again manages to throw the ball away while he's going down. Right towards Kyle Wilber:

play 29 int

If Wilber would have caught the ball it would have almost surely been a touchdown. The receiver is the only player close to him, and the WR's momentum is carrying the WR the wrong way. Every other Seahawk is either behind Wilber or in this yellow circle:

play 29 lots of room

Play 30: Another formation with two 3-techs. False start on the offense.

Play 31: Stand up rusher on the strong side. Blocked, no pressure.

play 34: Stand up SDE. Bullrushes tackle, gets good pressure.

Play 35: Stand up rusher. Blocked, no pressure.

Play 36: Stand up DE. Plays contain, doesn't try to rush. Does a good job holding edge and moving with Wilson.

Play 37: This is an interesting play. Spencer plays man coverage on a TE going into a route. He starts off getting a good bump:

play 37 (1)

Before covering the TE on a crossing route. Spencer had good coverage, you can see Wilson looking at the TE a few times and not being able to throw the ball.

Play 38: Run towards Spencer. Anthony initially steps inside, and gets hooked by the tackle. Blocked out of the play.

Play 39: Stand up rusher. Plays contain. Wilson attempts to scramble to his side, Spencer strings him down the line of scrimmage with rushers in pursuit:

play 39 (1)

play 39 (2)

play 39 (3)

play 39 (4)

Wilson finally dumps the ball to a nearby receiver, and Spencer makes the tackle for a loss of yards.

play 39 (5)

Play 40: Spencer double teamed by the tackle and TE, no pressure.

Play 45: Spencer drops into an underneath zone, no receiver enters area.

Play 46: Stand up rusher, no pressure.

Play 47: Lines up as the SDE. Engages tackle with power, then dips shoulder and gets around the edge. Good pressure.

Play 48: Tries a weird little stutter step to fake the tackle inside then go out. The tackle doesn't bite, no pressure.

Play 49: Beats tackle around the edge with speed.

Play 50: Spencer stunts, not sure if it's designed or not. He drops behind other linemen, and circles around to the weak side; however Wilson scrambles to the area he vacates.

Play 51: Speed rush, beats tackle to the edge, good pressure.

Play 52: Stand up rush. Engages tackle straight on, can't get off block.


There are a few takeaways from this game:

  • Spencer isn't totally in shape yet. After a blistering quick start, Spencer tailed off towards the end of the game. The coaches need to make sure they are managing his snap count to keep him effective.
  • Whatever lasting effects his injury may have, it didn't sap any speed. Spencer ran down Russell Wilson on numerous occasions, and his best pass rushing attribute was using speed to get around the tackle
  • Pass rushing moves; he's got them. Spencer showed a variety of moves, including the swim, the bullrush, and just plain speed. Some weren't effective (like a strange spin move where he attempted to engage the body of the tackle then spin away), but Spencer demonstrated a wide variety of pass rushing tools.
  • Almost Anthony lives! On numerous occasions Spencer had Wilson in his grasp, only to narrowly miss the sack. I'll take it though, if Spencer can provide the pressure and impact plays he made in this game going forward, he will be a potent weapon for our defense.

So that's my breakdown of Anthony Spencer. What player would you like to see next?

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