5 Wonders: Spencer's future, rookie wall

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
11:18
AM ET


It’s a short week for the Cowboys but it’s never too short to get into this week’s 5 Wonders. Here we go:

** I wonder if the Cowboys should be forced to play a road game the Sunday before every Thanksgiving Day game. That would seem to lessen an advantage for the visiting team that has an even shorter week because it has to travel on Wednesday to get to town. The last time the Cowboys played on the road before Thanksgiving came in 2004 when they lost to Baltimore, 30-10, and followed that up with a 21-7 against Chicago at Texas Stadium. While there is a segment of folks across the league that would like to see the holiday game rotate to other teams, the traditionalist in me says to keep things the same. But this suggestion would at least make some of the Cowboys’ preparation more difficult.

** The Cowboys will have an interesting decision to make in the offseason regarding outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent. So far he has had a solid season with four sacks, 15 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and 41 tackles, as credited by the coaches. But has he done enough to generate a long-term contract with eight figures in guaranteed money? If you’re not sure, then you don’t do it. But I wouldn’t give up on Spencer either for two reasons. The first is they do not have a replacement in reserve, even if people want to see more of Victor Butler. I think Butler is a situational pass rusher and not an every down player. My suggestion? Look to use the franchise tag on Spencer. The rough guess from people across the league is that the outside linebacker tag will be about $9 million in 2012. If a team wants to sign Spencer anyway, then you get a first-round pick in return. If that doesn’t happen, then the Cowboys have essentially bought themselves another year at the spot with a solid player. Plus, they could turn their early attention in the draft to another spot of need.

** Danny McCray does not generate a lot of buzz because special teamers rarely do, but I wonder if the opposition if starting to realize just how good he is at covering kickoffs and punts. McCray was on pace to annihilate the team’s mark for special teams’ tackle in a year to start the season. He has one tackle in his last four games and 14 for the season. Teams are game planning for him, by paying him a lot of respect on the outside when covering punts. That’s a huge sign of respect for the second-year safety. I can’t see him making the Pro Bowl for the NFC – Chicago’s Corey Graham would get my vote – but clearly the coaches know who the Cowboys’ best special teamer is.

** At this point of the season you have to wonder about rookies hitting a wall. It happens all the time because they just don’t play this many games in a year at the collegiate level. I wonder if the coaches pay a little more attention to Tyron Smith to make sure he’s holding up OK after playing 14 games (counting preseason). Dan Bailey said he is feeling fine but the veteran special teamers have pointed out things to keep him fresh for the long haul. One thing I don’t wonder about is DeMarco Murray hitting the rookie wall yet. He was so limited in training camp because of a hamstring injury and was not used much in the early part of the year. He has had at least 20 carries in four of the last five games and he seems built to handle the pounding a running back has to take.

** I wonder what happens to the Cowboys on their two-minute defense. It’s one thing for Tom Brady to complete eight of nine passes for 78 yards for New England and win the game at the end with an 8-yard throw to Aaron Hernandez. It’s another thing for Rex Grossman to tear up the defense in a two-minute drill, like he did for Washington. Grossman missed on only two throws on the drive that send Sunday’s game into overtime. He bit of chunks of yardage with completions of 20, 27 and 15 yards and had a beautiful throw to Donte Stallworth to tie it up. With games so close two-minute defenses have to excel and it’s an area that has to be a concern for the Cowboys.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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