Anthony Spencer the key to D turnaround

IRVING, Texas -- Over at NFL.com, Pat Kirwan has put together his top pass rushers in the league and it is no surprise that DeMarcus Ware is in the A group.

Ware is joined by Minnesota’s Jared Allen, Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney, Pittsburgh’s James Harrison and Chicago’s Julius Peppers. Ware has 80 sacks in his career and has led the NFL in two of the last three seasons.

More interesting, however, was that Allen, Freeney and Harrison had teammates on the list, too. Ware did not.

Allen had Ray Edwards. Freeney had Robert Mathis and Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

How much does it help Allen, Freeney and Harrison to have such a threat on the opposite side?

For the Cowboys defense to return to a top-10 level in 2011, they need Anthony Spencer to play the way he did over the last eight games of the 2009 season. In the chicken-and-egg debate, I’m now of the belief a pass rush makes a secondary and not the other way around. If the Cowboys can disrupt a quarterback, then Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick become better players.

That’s what happened in 2009.

That’s what didn’t happen in 2010.

Spencer had only six sacks in 2009 but he was a dominating presence. He was credited with 36 pressures. In 2010, he had five sacks and 14 pressures. He simply was not as active.

To me, Spencer becomes Rob Ryan’s most important project. Ryan should benefit from the fact that Spencer is entering a contract year. He must put up numbers in order to get a big-time contract. That can be a great motivator.