What went right, No. 2: Anthony Spencer's emergence

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
12:30
PM ET
Our five-part series on what went right and what went wrong for the Cowboys continues with No. 2:

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Anthony Spencer last offseason at a cost of $8.8 million. Spencer rewarded the Cowboys with a career-high 11 sacks and career-highs in total tackles (95) and solo tackles (55).

Spencer rushed the passer more in Rob Ryan's scheme in 2012 than he did in 2011, and it worked out well for him. He was particularly effective late in the late stages of games, getting seven fourth-quarter sacks, which ranked fourth in the NFL.

He also made several key plays late in the season. And when DeMarcus Ware was nicked up with elbow and shoulder injuries, it was up to Spencer to make more plays in the pass rush.

When Ryan was first hired, he was questioned about Spencer's lack of playmaking ability. Ryan scoffed at that notion, saying he felt Spencer made plays in the run and passing attacks.

Spencer, the strong-side linebacker, did a good job against the run this season and dropped back more often than Ware against the pass. However, Ryan sent Spencer on the rush more as he developed into a solid player.

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While Spencer didn't get named to the Pro Bowl, he earned much respect from NFL coaches and personnel for his production this season.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys will have a tough decision to make regarding Spencer. Should he get franchised again or will the team let him hit the open market?

It's one of many decisions the Cowboys have to make this offseason.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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