Buccaneers rookie defensive end Noah Spence had a couple of months to remember in October and November.
In the six games Spence played between Oct. 23 and Nov. 27 he recorded 15 tackles, 4.5 sacks and forced three fumbles.
Spence hasn’t been anywhere near as productive in the weeks since, recording just two tackles, no sacks and no takeaways in four games.
So, has the first of the Bucs two 2016 second-round draft picks hit that theoretical rookie wall? Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith says no.
Smith says Spence’s sudden struggles are simply a result of opposing offenses showing him more respect and attention than before.
“I believe (opponents) are devoting more resources to Noah, they’re turning the protection toward him at times,’’ Smith said.
“The type of month that he had in November, guys were watching the tape and going, ‘Gosh, we need to put chip help on him’ or ‘We need to put a tight end over on that side.’
“So that has happened and again, each week it’s a different dynamic in terms of how you’re going to put together a game plan, what the matchups are going to be, what the down and distances are going to be.’’
Down and distance has played a part in Spence’s disappearance as well. Smith pointed out that the Bucs have done a poor job the last month of creating what he calls “third-down-and-winnable’’ situations.
Smith defines those situations as any third down play in which the offense needs to gain at least six yards and he says the Bucs simply have not created enough of them of late.
“We’ve been very good on our third-down efficiency overall,’’ said Smith, whose defense ranks second in the league in that department allowing a first down on just 35-percent of its third downs plays.
“But we have not done a good enough job in getting teams in those third and what we like to call, ‘winnable’ situations. We’ve had challenges there and we’d like to (get more of those).
“We’ve got a lot more at our disposable when we’re facing a third down-and-six, in terms of you’re not defending the run usually, so you can do some different things there.”
Including making better use of Spence.