Running the Numbers: Why Anthony Spencer Will Have a Career-High in Sacks
My latest post at DallasCowboys.com explains why outside linebacker Anthony Spencer will record a career-high in sacks in 2012. Here’s a clip:
5. He’ll drop into coverage less frequently.
Although it may seem like Spencer rushes the quarterback on every pass play, that’s far from true. Over the last three seasons, he has actually dropped into coverage on 27.5 percent of pass plays. In comparison, DeMarcus Ware has been in coverage on only 12.9 percent of pass plays over that same period.
With defensive coordinator Rob Ryan simplifying the defense just a tad this season, I think you’ll see Spencer drop into coverage less frequently. With the addition of two play-making cornerbacks outside and superior pass coverage at the inside linebacker spot, the ‘Boys will probably run fewer zone blitzes, i.e. Spencer will rush the quarterback more often.
Spencer played 167 snaps in coverage last season. If his coverage rate drops to around 20 percent of pass plays in 2012, he’ll have around 50 extra opportunities to get to the quarterback. Even if his career sack rate remains steady, that equates to about one extra sack based on defensive scheme alone.
4. A full offseason under Rob Ryan should do wonders.
Many people forget that the lockout hindered Ryan’s ability to properly install his defense last season. Ryan admitted he should have limited the complexity of his defense with reduced preparation time. With a full offseason to learn and master Ryan’s scheme, the entire defense, especially the pass rush, should be much improved in 2012.
3. Spencer could see fewer snaps.
Spencer played in every game last year, but he still saw fewer snaps than in any season since 2008. That could be a good thing. With Victor Butler potentially playing more downs and rookie Kyle Wilber grabbing some of Spencer’s early-down snaps, Spencer should have fresh legs whenever he’s on the field. If you see Spencer’s total snap count in the range of 900 by season’s end (he played 939 snaps last year), there’s a good chance his sack total will actually be the highest it has ever been due to increased efficiency.
To be clear, I don’t think Spencer is an elite pass rusher by any means. I do think he’s a pretty good player, however, and much better than that for which people give him credit. He’s the league’s best run-stuffing outside linebacker, period. He’s also a slightly above-average pass rusher. He pressures the quarterback at the same rate as the top 15 outside linebackers in the NFL, even though his sack totals don’t reflect that.
In 2012, I think you’ll see Spencer close in on double-digit sacks. Nine is a solid projection, but don’t be surprised to see Spencer in the 10-12 range. If that happens, you may very well see the underrated edge rusher get a contract extension.