Third-year Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence has been starting the majority of the season in the absence—and more recently, the presence—of rookie Ryan Shazier, who began the season as a starter but has since been limited primarily to special teams.
While he has been adequate, Spence has had issues in finding consistency in his play, particularly when he is asked to play in tight quarters. When he is free to roam unimpeded, coming forward against the run, he tends to be at his best.
The Steelers’ last game against the Atlanta Falcons was a fine example of some of the highs and lows that we’ve come to see from Spence on a seemingly weekly basis, including impact plays in the backfield and being taken out for not having his head on a swivel.
One such positive play came against the run on the Falcons’ opening drive in the first quarter. In what was somewhat of a rare sight, Spence took on the right guard and was able to stack and shed at the line of scrimmage to make the tackle on Steven Jackson after a two-yard gain.
That was, of course, the good Spence, but we got a taste of the bad Spence early in the second quarter, again against the run. On a first and 20 run after an offensive holding penalty, Spence felt that he was going to be able to come free to pursue the running back around the perimeter, but he completely missed the pulling tight end coming around from the opposite side, knocking him down to his knee.
We got another glimpse of the bad Spence on the Falcons’ next offensive series of the quarter, on the play in which Lawrence Timmons was injured, even though the play only gained one yard. He tried to rush up the middle off the snap, but wound up getting buried and washed out of the play by the left guard instead.
Of course, later on in the same drive, we find Spence reading and reacting quickly to make a tackle in the backfield for a three-yard loss. With the Falcons doubling a pair of defensive linemen, Spence found the gap to get into the backfield and showed off his speed to take down the running back.
It was bad Spence again in the fourth quarter on this seven-yard run, missing a tackle that allowed the running back to gain about five or six extra yards from where he was contacted originally. Despite that, he did show good initial adjustment putting himself in position to make the tackle attempt.