As the season wears on, it may be just me, but it does seem that Sean Spence is beginning to play better. And when I say that he is playing better, I’m primarily speaking of consistency, which is what he has lacked for much of his first year on the field.
Of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers are only playing the third-year linebacker in the base defense while primarily operating in sub-packages, where Vince Williams sees the bulk of the time. But it has been the combination of those two players that has kept the rookie first-round draft pick off the field for much of the season, though they did find about 20 snaps for Ryan Shazier, especially late, against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Spence’s performance against the Chiefs was the fact that he was able to showcase his ability to stack and shed against offensive linemen, which had always been a concern about him, given his small size, even when he was drafted.
Playing the mack, he is often kept clean, but that isn’t universally the case, so, of course, he needs to show that he can take on and disengage from a block to make plays from time to time, and that is what he accomplished.
But first, he showed his range and nose for the ball by chasing down this screen pass from the far hash mark to the opposite sideline to make the tackle. He showed little hesitation weaving through traffic, homing in on the ball carrier and bringing him down after nine yards after others failed to bring him down.
That came early on the Chiefs’ opening drive, while this run stop came a bit later on the same drive. Spence lined up shadowing the left defensive end, flowing left at the snap and engaging with the right tackle before stacking and shedding the block to pounce on Knile Davis, wrestling him down by the legs for a gain of only one yard.
He was able to match the speed of Jamaal Charles to the left sideline on a stretch run early in the second quarter out of a heavy run formation from the Chiefs. The Steelers brought a safety into the box to the left and skewed the linebackers to the right of the formation. The tight end attempted to engage Spence, but the linebacker held the block to force Charles outside and then disengaged to make the tackle after a one-yard gain.
Late in the game, Spence showed some of his coverage ability going up against one of the Chiefs’ tight ends down the field. The ball was launched down the field, but out of reach of anybody, despite the throw not being rushed. Spence was in good trail position with the safety over the top in coverage.