Despite his solid play, Spencer still has critics

Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer had one of his best games of the season Sunday in Philadelphia. He forced a fumble, recorded a half sack and added four tackles in the Cowboys’ 38-23 victory over the Eagles.

Even the harshest of critics had to be satisfied with that production.

Aside from missing two games with a strained pectoral muscle, Spencer has started seven games and is on pace to have a career year. He is second on the team in sacks (3.5), second in quarterback pressures (15) and fifth in tackles (41).

Spencer has been a solid starter since the Cowboys selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft. Over the previous three seasons, he has 196 tackles, 17 sacks and eight forced fumbles.

But he hasn’t been a star.

“Frankly, he has played (well) but he just didn’t have the wow factor because expectations were so high,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Friday on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM].

Jones said because Spencer was lining up alongside outstanding pass rushers like DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Marcus Spears, critics felt he should dominate one-on-one matchups.

“He didn’t exactly line up the same way that Ware’s lined up,” Jones added. “But still, Ware’s exceptional.”

Cowboys coaches have applauded Spencer’s production despite outside criticism, often mentioning the 28-year-old’s strong contributions in stopping the run.

The Cowboys weren’t able to reach a long-term contract with Spencer during the off-season, so he agreed to sign an $8.8 million franchise-tag tender. If the two sides fall short on a long-term deal in the spring, Spencer could be faced with signing another franchise tag that would be closer to $10 million.

Either way, the Cowboys would like to keep him around. They would have an elite group of starting linebackers next season with Spencer and Ware on the outside and Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, who is out for the season after having toe surgery, on the inside.

“I really like our linebacking core,” Jones said, “and I know that it has a lot of respect around the NFL.”