The Scramble: Views on Suh

| December 24, 2011

PFF’s founder, Neil Hornsby, said recently that if you gave him any player in the league, he could give you 10 plays that would make him look like an All-Pro and 10 that would make you wonder how he’s collecting an NFL paycheck. While it’s the bulk of plays in between those extremes that actually define the player, the fringe examples are often what get lodged in the memories of fans and other observers of the game.

Those highlights and lowlights become the player’s story as they are repeatedly drilled into our consciousness. One angle is taken and run with until any other is drowned out.

For this week’s Scramble assignment, our four Scramblers have been tasked with taking four different angles to discuss a single player, Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. Each of our guys will present a brief look at Suh–a player not short on story lines–with each stating their case as the essential interpretation of his career to date. Please keep in mind that this is, at most, an exercise and PFF’s grades on Suh’s performance should be taken as our collective final word on the matter.

 

Impact from the Outset

by Steve Palazzolo

After one of the most dominant performances in college football history, the Detroit Lions drafted defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. His combination of power and quickness has not been seen at the position in years, and Suh was viewed as a “can’t miss” prospect. To this point, he has not disappointed.

While most rookies are easing their way into the lineup, particularly at the defensive tackle position, Suh took the league by storm, picking up 11 sacks, six QB hits, and 24 pressures in 2010. He became an every-down force from the beginning and impressively played 997 snaps, most in the league for an interior lineman. It’s been more of the same in 2011, as Suh is grading at +9.7 as a pass rusher, having collected three sacks, four hits and 25 pressures. He has continued to control the line of scrimmage, despite the extra attention he’s been given from opposing offenses.

Nothing exemplifies Suh’s unique skill set better than back-to-back plays against the Carolina Panthers this year in Week 11. Starting at the 1:54 mark in the fourth quarter, he shows his power by bull rushing right guard Geoff Hangartner into quarterback Cam Newton’s lap. On the next play, Suh explodes off the ball and squeezes between Hangartner and center Ryan Kalil to get intoNewton’s face again. His power and speed combination is nearly impossible to block.

The one question that has arisen about Suh’s game is his ability against the run. In the Lions’ scheme, his main goal is to penetrate and blow up plays in the backfield, and the same skill set that makes him a menacing pass rusher also makes him extremely difficult to block in the running game. Two plays against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7 show that he can be just as disruptive in this aspect of the game as well. In the first quarter with 3:46 to go, Suh is just too quick for the cut block by RT Tyson Clabo and he meets running back Michael Turner three yards in the backfield. Later in the game, at the 0:25 mark of the third quarter, Suh lines up at nose tackle and this times RG Garrett Reynolds feels his wrath. Once again, Suh’s explosion off the ball forces Reynolds to whiff on the block and the result is a 3-yard loss for Turner. With the ability to play multiple positions along the defensive front, along with Suh’s incredible power and explosion, he can have just as much impact in the running game as he does rushing the passer.

As the league continues throw the ball around the field at a record rate, the presence of a dominating interior pass rusher is invaluable and Suh has the potential to change a game as much as any defensive player in the league. I can imagine the first topic of discussion for offensive coordinators devising a game plan against the Lions is, “how do we block Suh?” And I can imagine the answer is, “I just wish he was on our team.”

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Incomplete Defender

by Chris Benson

While Ndamukong Suh has shown that he can be a dominant pass rusher at times, he simply can’t be considered the premiere defensive tackle in the league, as some would have you believe. Players like Kyle Williams of Buffalo or Kevin Williams of Minnesota have set a standard after multiple seasons of production in both the run game and rushing the passer.

Suh has made his fair share of plays in the run game in his two seasons, but it’s the alarming amount of plays he has a negative impact on that will inhibit him from overtaking those and other elite defensive tackles in the NFL. Just as PFF has never considered Antonio Gates the best tight end due to his deficiencies as a blocker, Suh will never be held in the same esteem as the Williamses until he sheds the “one-dimensional” label.

Suh’s cumulative run defense grade (-0.4) doesn’t really paint the picture of a player who is sometimes a liability against the run. As I said before, Suh has made plenty of plays in the run game and his ability to do so isn’t being questioned. Rather, it’s his ability to consistently stay in position to make a play that hurts Suh. With a cumulative grade that’s barely negative, you probably wouldn’t guess that Suh has been graded negatively on 39 plays in run defense, excluding penalties. With 251 snaps playing the run, that comes out to about two negative plays every 13 snaps in run defense.

We’ve heard all the arguments in Suh’s defense. Jim Schwartz just wants to turn Suh loose, those bad plays in the run game are the linebackers’ fault for not closing the hole quickly enough when Suh breaks upfield. I, for one, don’t buy it on a down-to-down basis, even if it is true sometimes. For example, let’s look at a play chosen deliberately from Suh’s best game as a pass rusher this season, Week 3 atMinnesota. At 12:45 first quarter, we see Suh blow by John Sullivan, but push too far upfield to make a play on Adrian Peterson. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch was showing blitz and engages Sullivan, leaving right guard Anthony Herrera an opportunity to make a block at the second level and a huge hole vacated by Suh for Peterson to cut back into and race downfield for 43 yards. If the Lions intended for Suh to burst upfield with no regard for controlling his gap when there was no linebacker behind him to fill it, perhaps the scheme needs some work.

Suh has the talent to become just as proficient against the run as he is rushing the passer and as he gains more experience he will more easily recognize those draw plays and other things that give him trouble. Once—and if—he finds a balance between being aggressive and over pursuing, Suh will be able to seriously cut back on the number of negative plays he accounts for in the run game and enter the conversation for best interior defensive lineman in the league.

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Immature Act 

by Rodney Hart Jr.

Getting beyond his strengths and weaknesses as a defender, Ndamukong Suh’s general state of self control is an issue that needs to be addressed as well. There’s a distinction to be made between playing with an edge and playing out of control. Up until his stomping incident, I would have been one arguing that he simply plays with an edge and on balance, he is one of the brightest spots of the Lions team. That was until I really did my homework on him. If you are a Suh defender and would prefer not to hear condemning facts about your “up-and-coming” stud, find a rock to hide under, put your fingers in your ears, and shout, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening ….”

For as much publicity as he’s received, it’s hard to believe Suh is only in his second year. It also reminded me that it was only a little over a year ago that he was being talked about as “rookie who acts like a veteran”, or “someone who gets it”. If that was ever true, his maturity has unquestionably dissipated over the past year and half.

I scoured the PFF archives to bring you the graphic to the right (Suh defenders, go find your rock).

What I’ve seen is a guy who–whether consciously or not–has played more and more for himself then the betterment of his team. The best example of this was the “stomping” incident. On third and goal, the Lions stop the Packers from scoring, then Suh–after being handled by a one-on-one block by Packers Guard Evan Dietrich-Smith–repeatedly shoves the lineman’s head into the ground before stomping on him when he gets up. First down, half the distance to the goal, kicked out for the game, Packers touchdown two plays later. Down 14-0, rather than 10-0.

This is not the sign of a guy who “gets it”. Rather than settling his problem on the next drive by making a play between the whistles, Suh wants to do something about it right away, regardless of the consequences for his team. It’s a selfish play, and not the sign of the mature rookie we were told about a year ago.

I’m not in the business of officially naming Suh a “dirty” player. I will say he has put himself and his team in a bad position by making enough questionable plays to not earn the benefit-of-the-doubt in a league that already heavily flags defensive players.

Can this type of play, and more importantly, reputation be changed? Yes … with time. Once upon a time Vince Wilfork started to enter into the “dirty” player category with a rash of penalties and fines during the earlier part of his career. With the past four years averaging under three penalties a season, the bad reputation seems far in the rearview mirror.

But what about a guy like James Harrison? Since 2009, he has been averaging about seven penalties a season. The problem has become so bad, that after his latest hit, there was speculation over whether the NFL would ban Harrison. One reason being that he comes across as remorseless.

If there is one concern with Suh going forward, it’s that he will also come across as remorseless. With a few high-profile spats this season where his attitude could be characterized as such, I’m afraid that it’s a reputation and trend that could turn him from being the linchpin of the Lions’ defense moving forward, to a player his own teammates get sick of watching bailing opposing offenses out. Especially when to this point in his career he has allowed more yards in penalties to opposing offenses then he has cost them by playing against him.

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In Comparison

by Gordon McGuinness

You’ve heard all about the good, the bad and the ugly of Suh so far from my three colleagues, but what I want to do is look at how he compares to the first defensive tackle taken in each of the last three years. From Suh’s draft class we’ll use the player taken directly behind him, Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy. From the 2009 draft I’ve gone for Peria Jerry over B.J. Raji due to Raji playing in a 3-4, so the three players we’ll be comparing him to are McCoy, Jerry and this year’s No. 3 pick, Marcell Dareus.

2009 – Peria Jerry – Atlanta Falcons – 24th Overall Pick (-10.1)

Jerry has yet to make a significant impact in Atlanta but this has been his most disappointing season yet, with him struggling particularly against the run where he ranks as our seventh-worst DT in that regard. His impact as a pass rusher has been minimal with just one quarterback knockdown (hit or sack) and 10 pressures.

2010 – Gerald McCoy – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Third Overall Pick (+5.5)

Were it not for injuries ending his first two years in the league, we may be talking about McCoy being a better player than Suh. Solid against the run, he added a sack, a hit and eight pressures in just six games this year. The big issue with McCoy will be how he bounces back from a second season ending injury but he has definitely been missed in Tampa Bay this year.

2011 – Marcell Dareus – Buffalo Bills – Third Overall Pick (+11.3)

The rookie is the only player of the three to have a higher PFF grade than Suh this year, due in the most part to three huge games. He hasn’t wowed anyone against the run but his six sacks, six hits and 21 pressures have served as a preview to what looks like the start of a fantastic career in the NFL. Just think, the Bills will get to pair him with a returning Kyle Williams next season.

Despite his inconsistency against the run, Suh has graded positively as a pass rusher in each of his first two seasons in the league. This year he has been good enough to earn our seventh-highest pass rushing grade amongst DTs, trailing only Dareus from this list.

It’s hard to argue against the Lions drafting Suh last year and nothing he has done since entering the league has changed that opinion for me. He still has plenty of room to improve, particularly against the run, but provided he can indeed improve he should in the very least be as good as any player above.

Ironically, a first-round DT who has shown flashes of outplaying Suh plays on the same team. Nick Fairley (+8.3) has only played 186 snaps in his rookie year but he has shown himself superior to Suh against the run with a grade of +5.3 while adding a sack, hit and six pressures as a pass rusher, definitely worth keeping an eye on. However, if Fairley turns out to indeed be a step better than Suh, it’s hard to imagine the Lions being too upset.

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One player, many ways to shape his story. For the record, heading into Week 16, Suh’s seventh spot among interior D-linemen in our pass-rushing grades is offset by his spot much further down the list–and quite near Dareus–in our run D grades. His penalty grade holds his overall grade down further as he’s collected more flags than all but three other DT’s, Oakland’s Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, and Suh’s own teammate Corey Williams.

An interesting player for sure, and like most, he’s one who requires multiple angles to get a feel for his actual impact.

 

Follow the guys on Twitter: @PFF_Steve@PFF_ChrisBenson@PFF_Gordon@PFF_RodneyHart and our main feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

 

  • Mr. Boogie

    Chris Benson-I found your analysis of Suh the most on point. When I watch RB’s run all over the Lions, Suh always seems to be in the backfield looking over his shoulder as the RB is sprinting 25 yards the other way. The example that stands out to me is the game vs. the 49ers where he get caught multiple times on the same “wham” play that results in big gains for Gore.
    His over-aggressiveness can be taken advantage of by smart coaches the same way a martial arts master can make a guy who outweighs them by 100 pounds fall on their face and look foolish.
    You would never see PFF favorites Justin Smith, Jared Allen, or Geno Atikins expose themselves, or their team, like that. Until he starts playing smarter, he won’t be able to dominate and control games from the middle of the field.

  • Scout

    As a Lions fan, I never saw an issue with Suh’s supposedly dirty playstyle until the stomp. And taking penalty information out of context isn’t gonna change that. You have to take into account that about five of those personal fouls are hands to the face penalties (hardly malicious). And then you have to take that many of these calls have been BAD CALLS. Such as the Cutler tackle where he was called for unnecessary roughness for PUSHING CUTLER DOWN TWO HANEDED, rather than throwing his entire weight on Cutler and crushing him. And then there was the Marion Barber horsecollar, even though Suh grabbed him by the hair, which is completely legal.

    Suh’s immaturity is overstated, as the stomp is really the only credible instance.

  • http://www.mlive.com/forums/lions Asteroth

    What doesn’t get reported with the infamous “stomp”, (which, while was surely a bad move in a high profile game…if you look at the tape it wasn’t as violent as people make it seem) is that the Green Bay Oline coach instructed Dietrich-Smith to “untie Suh’s shoes” after every play. And that is NFL euphemism for “twist his ankle”. The coach admitted this to the media a few weeks ago

    Dietrich-Smith tried twisting Suh’s leg three times and just before Suh pushed his head in the ground you can see the awkward way Smith pushes Suh backward to the ground after the whistle. Smith was getting beat in the game and was intentionally trying to hurt Suh, and could have if Suh weren’t as strong as he is. This is why Dietrich-Smith didn’t look exasperated after Suh “stomped” on his arm. He knew he had it coming.

    Now think about it….Who was more “dirty”?

  • http://www.mlive.com/forums/lions Asteroth

    Chris, Schwartz doesn’t just want to get Suh upfield. In his “get off” defense, all the DT’s are instructed to penetrate and disrupt in the backfield. This is not a read and react two-gap DT system.

    There is a reason our run defense is so much better when Durant is in. It IS the LBers responsibility to come up and plug those holes in the run game