IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys defense isn't the same without Anthony Spencer.
Dallas has allowed at least 30 points in each of its two games without Spencer, after not having done so in any of the first three.
Spencer owns a fifth of the Cowboys' sack total, despite playing in only three outings thus far because of a pectoral injury. His two sacks this season place him second on the team in that category.
He's practiced on a limited basis this week, but head coach Jason Garrett said, as optimistic as he is, he hasn't gotten to the point where he can comfortably say Spencer is ready to play in an NFL game yet.
"We're trying to move forward with him, and he has made progress," Garrett said. "You just get to a point at some point in the week where you say, 'Is he capable of going or not?' He did more yesterday and we're hopeful that as we go forward he can do more and play in this ballgame. He's a big part of our defense."
The Cowboys have gone with a combination of Alex Albright and Victor Butler in Spencer's place. They've even shifted to a 4-3 at different times, largely to make up for Spencer's loss.
Neither substitute has a sack in Spencer's stead. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware and defensive lineman Josh Brent have the only Cowboys sacks in the last two games.
Dallas' lack of takeaways, and specifically its lack of interceptions this season, is a direct result of a mediocre pass rush through six weeks. The Cowboys are tied for 23rd in the league with 10 total sacks, six of which have gone to Ware, who seems to be the only player getting much of a rush on the outside.
Garrett said Ware will get a ton of attention regardless of who's next to him, but he also admitted the more established the players are around Ware, the more offenses have to account for and respect other rushers, which opens up lanes across the defensive line.
In the first three games while Spencer was playing, opponents totaled a combined 474 yards passing. In the two games since he's been out, quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco threw for a combined 509 yards through the air. No opposing wide receiver has scored a touchdown with Spencer active this season, perhaps because receivers haven't had time to get down the field like they're accustomed to.
It's fair to have expected more out of Spencer since he was selected in the first round in 2007. Some people aren't content with his season-high of six sacks, which he set in 2009 and tied in 2011.
But it's clear after two games with Spencer unavailable that a defense with him on the field is better than one without him.