Players on the current version of the Cowboys don’t have nicknames like Too Tall, Hollywood, Mr. Cowboy, or the Dodger. Instead, the team has such original nicknames as TNew and DWare. There are plenty of variations of Tony Romo’s name, but that’s a different matter.
The most appropriate nickname for anyone on this team is Almost Anthony Spencer. The former first-round pick has a nose for the football and is often seen near the play. However, he is more well-known for near misses, as in “Spencer almost made it to the quarterback there, but he grabbed nothing but air.”
In 2009, after a 17-10 loss to Denver, I wrote, “If we could reward players for almost making plays, Spencer would be a Pro Bowler. Instead, he nearly gets sacks and nearly gets interceptions but never quite gets there.”
One week later, after a 26-20 overtime win over the Chiefs, I added, “Until further notice, Spencer will be known as Almost Anthony. He had two tackles and three quarterback hits, but he still has not recorded a sack.”
Spencer had two sacks against the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day, and those were his only two sacks for the entire season after 13 weeks.
Dallas had to win their final three games to have a shot at the playoffs. It was during those three games that Spencer temporarily shed the Almost Anthony name. Consider these stats:
vs. New Orleans: 6 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 3 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery.
vs. Washington: 5 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 2 QB hits.
vs. Philadelphia: 5 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble.
Spencer added another sack in the team’s wildcard win over the Eagles, which still stands as the team’s only playoff win in the past 15 years. He even had a solid game in a loss to the Vikings, recording 9 tackles and a sack.
Fast-forward to 2011. Spencer has 6 sacks again this year, but none of them have come in the last three games. His most noteworthy play during that time was his complete whiff while trying to sack Michael Vick. Spencer wound up with Vick’s facemask on a key play that led to the Eagles’ first touchdown.
If teams knew they had to slow down both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, this is a dangerous defense. However, Ware is the only playmaker between the two, and when he doesn’t pressure the quarterback, there is not a good chance that anyone else will.
Sure, Jay Ratliff can get there from time to time, but he’s inconsistent. And it’s true that Spencer has coverage duties and doesn’t always rush the passer. However, there have been plenty of plays where the team has rushed both Ware and Spencer, and Spencer has come up short, even though he doesn’t receive anywhere near the focus that Ware does.
Plenty of things need to go right for the Cowboys to win on Sunday, but a sudden resurgence by Almost Anthony would be a good start.