Jan 1, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) unloads pass before Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) gets to him at MetLife Stadium. New York Giants defeat the Dallas Cowboys 31-14. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Dallas Cowboy Anthony Spencer, Pass-Rushing Efficiency, and the NFL's OLB's


As explained in Parts 1 & 2, the attempt to evaluate Dallas Cowboy Anthony Spencer was based on determining whether it was fair to say he was “average” (and whether Jerry Jones committed a ridiculous mistake by paying him 8.8 million for the 2012 NFL season). Part 1 compared Spencer to DeMarcus Ware, Part 2 compared Spencer to the other OLB who play in a 3-4 defense; both concluded that Spencer was much better than average.

Part 3 is an attempt to find some statistical way (other than sacks) to measure pass-rushing efficiency.

January 8, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) during the first quarter of the 2011 AFC wild card playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

A Different Way of Measuring Pass-Rushing Skills:

When you look at all of Spencer’s stats from 2011 compared to the rest of the OLB’s in the NFL, his pure pass-rushing numbers are all in the top 10, but they are reasonably close to ‘average’.  But, when you look at his total production (tackles, forced fumbles, and ‘stops’) Spencer is very close to the league leaders in all of those categories.

As previously argued, it is unfair to judge a player’s pass-rushing ability based solely on the number of sacks. While not always as good as a sack, hitting the QB and hurrying the QB are sometimes even more valuable than sacks. Pressures often result in penalties for grounding, interceptions, etc., so while they are not sacks, they are still pretty important.

In an effort to concoct a statistic that would be a more accurate reflection of a player’s pass-rushing skill, I created a new category of statistic called “Frequency of QB disruptions“.

The category of “Frequency of QB disruptions” is based on sacks, QB hurries, and QB hits.  The stat is created by adding all the sacks, hurries, and hits together, and then dividing them by the number of snaps that player was actually rushing the passer (as opposed to playing the run or falling back in coverage.)  The result is a number that tells you how often the player “disrupts” the QB by sacking, hitting, or hurrying him.

The numbers for sacks, hurries, and hits came from ProFootballFocus.com

# of snaps Total QB #of plays per
Name #Snaps rushing QB Sacks QB Hits QB Hurries Disruptions QB Disrupt.
 James Harrison 681 206 9 11 23 43 4.79
 Cameron Wake 904 519 9 20 52 81 6.4
 DeMarcus Ware 913 476 20 8 44 72 6.61
 Brian Orakpo 956 390 10 6 43 59 6.61
 Tamba Hali 1009 459 12 10 41 63 7.28
 Clay Matthews 970 501 6 21 40 67 7.47
 Ryan Kerrigan 1056 451 9 12 36 57 7.91
 Anthony Spencer 939 400 6 9 35 50 8
 Shaun Phillips 641 271 4 5 20 29 9.34
 Justin Houston 773 206 6 3 13 22 9.36
 Jason Taylor 530 345 7 12 16 35 9.8
 Calvin Pace 977 382 5 8 23 36 10.6
 Ahmad Brooks 967 555 6 8 37 51 10.88
 Travis LaBoy 647 197 1 4 13 18 10.94
 Connor Barwin 986 598 12 18 24 54 11.07
Sam Acho 575 211 6 0 12 18 11.7
 Brooks Reed 799 471 6 6 23 35 13.45

The chart above is based on the frequency with which OLB’s get a “QB disruption”.  A ‘QB disruption’ is when a defensive player gets a sack, hits the QB, or hurries the QB.  The figure in the far right column, “# of plays per QB disrupt”, is simply the number of snaps each player was actually rushing the passer divided by the total of ‘QB disruptions’.  That stat indicates how often a player disrupts the QB.

The data suggests the following:

Nov. 18, 2010; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake (91) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) and causes a fumble during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

1. The most elite of the pass-rushing OLB’s in the NFL (DeMarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, and Brian Orakpo) disrupt the QB about every 6.5 times they set out to rush the passer.

2. The incredibly efficiency of James Harrison is impressive, but it is also fairly easy to dismiss as an anomaly (likely explained by the fact that he only rushed the QB on 206 snaps, while the vast majority of the other players rushed the passer over 400 times).

3. If the three OLB’s mentioned above are the upper echelon of pass-rushers in the NFL because they all disrupt opposing QB’s approximately every 6.5 times they rush the QB, then the second tier of pass-rushing OLB’s must include Ryan Kerrigan, Clay Matthews, and Anthony Spencer.  All three of them disrupted the QB every 7.5 – 8 times they rushed.  Tamba Hali (at 7.28) may be in his own group.

4.  Anthony Spencer disrupted the QB once every 8 times he was pass-rushing.  All of the players who disrupt the passer more frequently than Spencer are generally considered elite players.


I started out doing research about Anthony Spencer with the intention of disproving the claim that he was “average”.  Looking at the evidence compiled, it now seems that not only is Spencer much better than average, he might be awfully close to elite. Most Cowboys fans unconsciously judge Spencer by comparing him to Ware, so it will probably come as a surprise to realize just how good Anthony Spencer really is.  Think about it:

1.  Yes, he only had 6 sacks.

2. Only 1 OLB in the entire NFL, Calvin Pace (57), had more tackles than Spencer (53).

3. Spencer forced 4 fumbles in 2011; only 4 players forced more, and none of them were OLB’s.  Other OLB’s that also forced 4 fumbles include: Ryan Kerrigan, Tamba Hali, and Sam Acho.

Play-makers cause fumbles.

4. In the all-important stat of “STOPS“, Anthony Spencer is the 4th ranked OLB with 39. The NFL’s leader had 44.

Play-makers get stops.

5. When it comes to rushing the passer, Spencer appears to be fairly effective. The rate at which he ‘disrupts the QB’ suggests he is just as good as many of the big name OLB’s in the NFL.  Spencer may not be in the same class as Ware, Orakpo, and Wake, but he is part of the next group that includes Kerrigan and Matthews.  Spencer also disrupts the QB much more frequently than Jason Taylor, Ahmad Brooks, or Calvin Pace.

Play-makers disrupt the QB.

Dallas Cowboy fans may not be able to see it, but Anthony Spencer is closer to elite than “average”.

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Tags: Anthony Spencer Dallas Cowboys Is Anthony Spencer "Average"? ProFootball Focus

  • Dallas3026

    Excellent article. Thank you for confirming what i have always believed – that Spencer was a pretty damn good player.

    • C. Joseph Wright


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  • californy

    It like what I have always said, I am on the fense with Spencer and nothing changes in that department. I can tell you are a Spencer fan, in reality I am not. I do like him but I expect better number from him that he is not giving us. I have always talk to you about the tackle count, this number is important to me. I do know understand stops, but what you got to realise most of the tackles I had in life where all stops. So when I mention tackles I am talking about stops.

    • C. Joseph Wright

      I have always thought that Spencer was under-rated, but the numbers suggest he is pretty damn good. I did not expect the his numbers to be as good as they are.

      • californy

        Part of Anthony Spencer problem is he is living in the shadow of Ware here in the NFL and is always being compaired to him, when they both play a differnt position with differnt responncibility. You can say the same thing about Spears who is in Ware shadow being from the same draft class and round in the NFL. But unlike Spencer is playing a differnt position, but is no where the athlete or number Ware us getting.

  • californy

    I saw Spencer ability equivelant to the play Of Ahmad Brooks. In their Career, they only differnt in one tackles, and they both play in a 3-4 defense. Ahmad Brooks just signed a extention for SF this off Season and it pays him roughtly 7.05 million per year. I think that would be a good starting spot for a long term negociation with Spencer. There stats are almost identical, so I would not see any issue of starting at this point.

    • Erasmus

      I wonder whether there is any talk of a long-term contract, even for two years to reduce the 8.8 of the franchise tag.

  • californy

    I am also Ok with Spencer signing a one year offer and letting him go next season. If this is the case they need to develope someone who will shair snaps with him. I am very happy with the player of Adrian hamilton. I rather have him play at DE, but I have heard he is doing well at OLB also. The only concern with Hamilton would be his streght and ability to shed block. I would be Ok if we develope one of these young player or even draft Spencer replacement in next year draft.

  • californy

    I may not agree with your stats you are using the pressures, I do understand them. It just not a stats I would claim to if it were mine. The way I veiw Pressure in my failure to make the tackle and hit. I use to hit the QB & RB on every play, so it sound foreign to me to even mention a stats that just a indication for being close.

    • Erasmus

      But “just being close” leads to bad throws and interceptions, or at least incomplete passes. All of those things are pretty good for a defense, and they are all regularly “just being close”.

      • C. Joseph Wright


  • californy

    I have always mention this to you also. I wouldnt mind seeing Spencer becoming a full Time Defensive end. I mention this because I want to got to a 4-3 defense, but at the same time, i would consider moving Spencer to DE, even if we would remain in a 3-4 defense. I see our Front 3 player weak in term of getting to the Quarterback. I just want our best player on the field at all time.

  • californy

    If I have to take a guess, Spencer will not get his long term contract here in Dallas. Spencer will play out his contract and be playing for some other team next year. I expected JJ to have him signed about now if he was motivated to do so.

  • californy

    I am amaze at Pittsburg LB crew 2 years ago they had 3 player top the total of 100 tackles , and they barely missed on the 4th LB. How I wish Dallas had those type of LB. I believe this team can have those type of LB should they go to a 4-3 defence with Connor, Carter and Lee.

    • C. Joseph Wright

      If Penn State is “Linebacker U”, then the Pittsburgh Steelers are “Linebacker Inc.”

  • californy

    I be honest I was a liitle dissapointed with the play of all our LB last year with the exception of Sean Lee. I expected the number to go way up. The number actually went the other direction for Brooking and Brady, Brooking & Brady had a drop of of 50 percent of his career total average, Spencer and Ware number stay the same. I was expecting a jump of 20 percent all across the board in the LB totals. Lee went from 32 tackles to 105 tackles a increase of over 300 percent. Lee number would of been much highter had it not been because of his injury, at one point he was on the pace of 200 tackles in a season. I can actually see Lee number in the area of 140 tackles for this season. If Connor can start and play healthy and not split the time with Carter, he should have about 120-100 tackles this season. I would love to have our LB all average 100 tackles per season, it seem like a impossible figure but it really is not.

  • californy

    I wouldn’t mind seeing the boys pick up Penn State LB coach as our New position coach here in Dallas. I would very much enjoy to see our LB number blow up here in Dallas. If that would happen my guess would be we would have the best LB group here in the NFL.

  • californy

    If The Lb dont get the number I am hopping for then I hope they develope the depth at all position. I believe we have a good group of lb who can flourish here in Dallas. If we can increase our depth this will give the boys better option with Spencer after this season. My guess is Lee after a mid season pace of 160 tackles will be a more important signing than Spencer. I just hope Spencer can signed a contract close to what Ahmad Brook signed with SF, which averages to 7.05 million per year.

  • californy

    I know the boys need a NT and they dont have one. I was looking on the Dallas Roster and couldnt help but notice a player we have who is build like a NT. I would like him to become our swing tackle and eventually be move inside to Guard down the line. Levy Adcock Tackle is 6’5 324 lbs, I think he would be a good candidate for a NT position should we need a player. He can provide depth for us at two position saving us a roster space. I also saw another candidate for NT, this player was my dark hourse candidate for the starting Guard position. In his last two year of college, he didnt give up a sack, the player name is Harland Gun 6’2 324 lbs. They say Gun is a brawler, may not have the great feet but can move the pile backward. Just keep this in mine, Atayba Rubin was a Guard in college and now he is one of the better NT in Football, he now a DT for Cleveland. The switching form Offense to defence and vice versa is nothing new The boys have had great success in doing this in the Landry Era, in fact Parnell is trying to do this as our Swing tackle.

  • californy

    What people need to realise is when growing up many NFL player played both way offense and defence. This was a very common thing, and in order to get more depth, I think we should go back to doing this. This will enable us to go deeper in the LB position and WR position if we needed to. The way I look at our DL and OL is lacking in talent especially in the middle of the line.

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