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Running the Numbers: Why Anthony Spencer Will Have a Career-High in Sacks | The DC Times

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Running the Numbers: Why Anthony Spencer Will Have a Career-High in Sacks

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Jonathan Bales

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.

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4 Responses to Running the Numbers: Why Anthony Spencer Will Have a Career-High in Sacks

  1. craig kocay says:

    I really liked this:
    Your best article yet Mr. Bales… lose the stats and use logic, nice move. Keep em coming.

  2. Tom says:

    I hope Spencer has his big year. I expect him to put up close to 10 sacks every season, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    He’s very good vs the run, and athletic enough to drop into coverage if he has to. But I would rate him as strictly avg. in the pass rush dept. With Ware attracting so much attention on the other side, there is no excuse for his sack totals to be so low for this long.

    Having Wilber there to take some snaps is good to keep Spencer fresher late in games, and late the season, but I am curious to see if Ryan uses Wilber more in passing situations. Also, Ryan might call more blitzes from the ILB’s and CB’s, now that he has the full off-season to install his entire system. I am sure he left a large chunk of his playbook out last year because of the time constraints and the poor secondary play. Those factors could negatively impact Spencer’s sack opportunities.

    Another reason to think he might get a career high in sacks, and It shouldn’t matter, but Spencer is playing for a big contract; likely his final shot at a big contract. He has a lot riding on his performance this upcoming season. Getting 10+ sacks would add a lot to his value. Ray Edwards got a pretty nice contract by putting up decent numbers, while having the advantage of playing opposite Jared Allen. Spencer is in a similar situation. Might be the motivation he needs to squeeze every last ounce of effort he has into this season.

  3. @Craig – I get so many calls from friends/family about some of the comments, and we have a good laugh. There are some insightful fans on the site, but some really just make you wonder. Unfortunately, more graphs on the way!

    @Tom – I think you’re right that Wilber could limit Spencer’s opportunities. We’ll see how that plays out, but I’m not sold on Wilber just yet.

  4. valmont says:

    “He’s the league’s best run-stuffing outside linebacker, period. ”

    he’s not even the best run-stuffing outside linebacker on his own team. Period

    James Harrison, Terrell Suggs. Period.

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