During the Seattle Seahawks 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked six times and under pressure for more than half of the offense’s time on the field. Much of that pressure came from defensive end Noah Spence, the rookie out of Eastern Kentucky who the Bucs chose in the second round and who many analysts thought would turn out to be the best pass rusher in the class. How was he so successful? Spence used his “speed rush” versus rookie left tackle George Fant, collecting 1.5 sacks while pressuring Wilson on numerous other occasions.
We’ll start with Spence’s shared sack with Gerald McCoy in the first quarter.
Spence lined up outside Fant, aiming his rush towards Wilson. After the snap, he burst off the line of scrimmage ripping underneath Fant’s outstretched arms. Spence makes a greater than 90 degree turn, showing excellent hip flexibility to get around Fant to collapse on Wilson.
With McCoy bullrushing right guard (76) Germain Ifedi backwards, this kept Wilson in the pocket. The immediate pressure did not allow the quarterback enough time to recognize and scramble to escape it.
In the start of the second quarter, Spence collected a solo sack on Wilson. At the top of your screen, Spence bursts around Fant using his speed rush around the edge. Again, it is his hip flexibility that allows him to turn the corner and chase Wilson from behind as he attempts to evade the pressure.
Wilson fumbles the ball as he gets sacked, but was able to recover it. Since the play was on third down, the Seahawks were forced to punt after the start of a promising drive.
In the fourth quarter, Spence pressured Wilson into throwing an errant pass to tight end (88) Jimmy Graham. This time Spence converts his speed-to-power off-balancing Fant and then disengages to pressure Wilson with another “speed rip” pass rush.
In the very next play, Spence again beats Fant immediately off the line of scrimmage with his speed rush forcing Wilson outside the pocket. Wilson escapes the pressure and throws a perfect pass wide receiver (16) Tyler Lockett on his deep pivot route. Right as the ball is about to arrive in Lockett’s hands, Tampa Bay’s free safety (30) Brad McDougald delivers a violent, but legal hit jarring the pass loose. This play forces another punt.
Not only did Spence beat Fant in the passing game, he also made an impact in run defense. At the end of the first quarter, Spence lines up opposite of Fant like he did for most of the day. Fant jumps off the line of scrimmage with poor technique leaning too far forward with his body and helmet allowing Spence to shed his block almost immediately. He then helps McDougald to tackle Thomas Rawls for a loss on second down.
How did such an explosive pass rusher make it to the second round? Spence was kicked off the Ohio State Buckeyes as a sophomore and ruled permanently ineligible to play in the Big Ten due to a public intoxication and an addiction to ecstacy. After being suspended during his junior season, he received treatment for his addiction and transferred to Eastern Kentucky to play his senior season with the Colonels. On the season, Spence has collected 5.5 sacks and seems to have been making the most out of his opportunity with the Buccaneers.
In this game, the Seattle started three rookies on their offensive line and Justin Britt, easily the Seahawks’ best offensive lineman, was out with an ankle injury and replaced by Joey Hunt. The team also rotated Garry Gilliam and Bradley Sowell at right tackle, showing a massive distrust in both. Spence is really good, but the offensive line put a black eye on weeks of supposed progress.
Seattle hosts the 4-7 Carolina Panthers next weekend. The Panthers season has been a huge disappointment after going 15-1, defeating the Seahawks in the playoffs a year ago, and losing to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
While the Carolina’s offense is struggling, they still have a formidable defensive front with Kawann Short, Charles Johnson, and Mario Addison. The Seahawks desperately need to make some adjustments up front and hope Britt returns healthy from his injury or it’s going to be another long day at the office for Fant, but even more disparaging, for Wilson.