The Dallas Cowboys finished seventh in the NFL last season with 42 sacks. The issue with their pass rush is that one person -- DeMarcus Ware -- had 19.5 of them. The Cowboys' ideal situation -- one that could possibly vault their pass rush into the league's elite echelon -- is that someone steps forward and becomes a credible and consistent enough threat to give Ware some help.
But the Cowboys weren't able to find a pass-rushing monster on this year's offseason market, and instead they franchised outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who has been a good player for them, but has never had more than six sacks in a season. The Cowboys' coaching staff talks over and over again about all of the things Spencer does well, and this story from Tim MacMahon addresses that thing he needs to do better.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is determined to use Spencer as a pass-rusher more often, but that's always been a flimsy excuse. It's not like Spencer was dropping into coverage in the Cowboys' nickel-and-dime packages. There have been a lot of pass-rushers over the years who racked up double-digit sack totals playing almost solely in those packages.
The Cowboys' corner upgrades should benefit Spencer as much as anyone. If a quarterback has to hold the ball a little longer, at least a handful of what had been one-step-away plays for Spencer should turn into getting-the-job-done deals.
"At some point," coach Jason Garrett said, "he's got to go make some sacks."
I don't know that I'm sold on the idea that the cornerback upgrades should make the pass rush better. The logic seems sound, but I just feel that the plan works better in the other direction. I think beefing up the pass rush helps the secondary, and that it doesn't matter how well you cover receivers if you can't make the quarterback throw the ball. So I'm not prepared to buy into the notion that having Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in coverage will help Spencer get more sacks.
At this point, there's a pretty good chance Spencer just is the player he is -- good in run support and decent at disrupting the quarterbacks, but not very good at knocking them down while they still have the ball in their hands. Unfortunately, he plays outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, so he's expected to put up big sack numbers. Having Ware on the other side doesn't help him, since Ware's the best in the business and an unfair comparison to anyone. If Spencer is all of a sudden going to turn into a sack artist, it's more likely to be because of something that changes in his game, his technique or his own internal motivation. It sounds as though it's at least on his mind as he heads into 2012.