Cowboys defensive player to watch: Anthony Spencer

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

 

How he beats you: While DeMarcus Ware receives the majority of attention on the Cowboys defense, Anthony Spencer provides an able counterweight from the opposite outside linebacker spot. In his sixth season, Spencer has been every bit as productive as Ware, with a career-high 10 sacks and 87 total tackles, most on the Cowboys.

Spencer timed his breakout season well – he’s making $8.8 million this year after the Cowboys used their franchise tag on him last offseason, and now he may be in line for a large contract extension. Spencer is especially stout against the run for a linebacker who rushes the passer so well. His size (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and strength allow him to set an edge on run plays, but he’s still fast enough to race around tackles. The Cowboys focused on him rushing the passer more this season, and he has emerged, in one Redskin’s opinion, as every bit the threat as Ware.

“We were just having this discussion this morning: Who would you rather block, Spencer or Ware?” Lichtensteiger said. “I think Ware is the bigger athletic phenom. Spencer, I think it’s a contract year for him, so he’s playing with that special motivation. They’re both really good. But I would say Spencer has just got more of an intensity about him than Ware does.

Ware’s got all the physical attributes that you want in a pass rusher. But Spencer’s got something inside of him that’s driving him more than what other guys have. It’s not the first time we’ve ever noticed Spencer on tape, but he’s playing different this year. It’s almost unfair for them two guys on each side of the ball that can play that well pass and run. Spencer is just as good as Ware, in my opinion.”

How to stop him: The combination of Ware and Spencer prevents offensive lines from focusing too much attention on either side. Spencer drops back in coverage roughly once every three pass plays, and he can be susceptible in the secondary. But when he rushes the passer, he’s difficult to handle. 

“I don’t know, double team him?” Lichtensteiger said. “You got to make sure you’re perfect in your form, all those things they tell you to do – hands inside, get low, keep a base. The good rushers like Spencer and Ware, they’re going to switch it up with what they beat you with. It’s not like you can just scout them out and say, ‘This is what they went with every time.’ They went with three or four things.”

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