Does Jim Schwartz Deserve Blame for Ndamukong Suh's Dirty Play?

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Does Jim Schwartz Deserve Blame for Ndamukong Suh's Dirty Play?
Leon Halip/Getty Images

In the NFL, coaches coach and players play. There will always be a fine line between what players are asked to do by coaches and what those same players actually do once they are between the white lines.

But leaders are also expected to lead, and it's certainly fair to pin a percentage of the blame for Ndamukong Suh's unwillingness to change his ways on Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. 

On Tuesday, Schwartz was forced to deal with the sixth disciplinary action taken against Suh since the Lions selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Yet this wasn't your average, run-of-the-mill, $7,500 fine. In fact, Tuesday's $100,000 punishment, which was first reported by Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, represents the highest fine in the history of the NFL for on-field conduct. 

The play that forced the hand of the league office came on Sunday, during the Lions' 34-24 season-opening win over the Minnesota Vikings

Following an interception from Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, Suh delivered an illegal low block on Vikings center John Sullivan, who was trailing the play by roughly five yards. The block drew a 15-yard penalty and wiped out Levy's pick-six. 

Suh backers will argue the block was unnecessary but far from dirty, as Sullivan was still in pursuit of the play. Instincts as a football player were to blame the incident, not any intent to injure an opposing player.

Those on the other side of the coin will claim Suh had malicious intentions, and that his reputation as a dirty player was only confirmed when he chopped down an unsuspecting offensive lineman who wasn't a factor in the play. 

The truth in the matter probably lies somewhere in between.

Suh's block was certainly reckless, dangerous and stupid. From a team perspective, it cost Detroit seven points. In regards to safety, there's a reason the NFL outlawed these kinds of hits before the 2013 season. Blocking a trailing player below the waist after a change of possession has no place in the game. 

But Suh's intent to injure in this case is certainly without clear evidence. Even Sullivan, who has more right to claim maliciousness than anyone, accepted Suh's apology for the hit and reminded everyone that football is a game of endless adrenaline, via Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press

"I think guys get caught up in the plays sometimes," Sullivan said. "It's hard to even remember what you do when you get caught up in the moment. I appreciate the fact he came up to me and said something."

Per Michael Rothstein of ESPN, Schwartz told reporters Tuesday that Suh gave a reason for why he made the block:

But what he explained to me is he didn’t want to hit him high, because if he hits him in the head right there, that’s a peel back and there’s a penalty also. He was trying to hit him at the waist and ended up in a bad spot and went low.

Schwartz was very clear that Suh was in the wrong for the block, but he didn't feel the play was in any way dirty. 

However, the NFL has now sent a clear message to both Schwartz and Suh: Clean up the act, or the next infraction is going to cost the star defensive tackle more games on the sideline. 

In most ways, the message was sent to Suh, and Suh only. He's the one on the field and making a habit of reckless decision-making.

Ndamukong Suh's Disciplinary History in NFL
Infraction Fine
2010 Roughing the Passer $7,500
2010 Unnecessary Roughness $15,000
2011 Roughing the Passer $20,000
2011 Ejection, Kicking 2 Game Ban
2012 Unnecessary Roughness $30,000
2013 Illegal Low Block $100,000

Source: ESPN

Six disciplinary offenses in three years and one game isn't just coincidence, it's a clear trend, and it's one Suh needs to clean up to avoid a certain suspension for his next wrongdoing. The NFL probably can't raise the fine bar any higher. A straight ban will likely be next. 

But part of that process falls in the lap of Schwartz, who has certainly let the emotions of the game get the best of him in the past. He was once the defensive coordinator in Tennessee when Albert Haynesworth stomped on another man's head during a game.

He also coaches a team now that annually ranks among the league leaders in head-scratching penalties.

The problem certainly doesn't start with Suh, and it doesn't end with him, either. The Lions have a team-wide habit of making these silly, inexcusable mistakes that advance the "dirty and dumb" narrative. 

It's a Trend: Lions Penalty History, 2011-12
Major Infractions Other 15-Yard Penalties
2011 18 9
2012 16 5

Source: NFL Penalties

According to NFL Penalties, the 2012 Lions had 16 penalties of the major, 15-yard variety, which includes personal fouls, unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct and roughing the passer. Another five came from horse-collar tackles and 15-yard facemask penalties. 

Last season only followed the same script that was laid out in 2011, when Detroit committed 18 major fouls and also saw Suh disqualified from a game for stomping on Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. The Lions were also flagged for four horse-collar tackles and five major facemasks.

During the 2013 preseason, Schwartz's bunch committed three personal fouls in the opener and four more 15-yard infractions against the New England Patriots. The trend that continued this August spilled over into Week 1, when the Lions racked up 11 total penalties (including two of the 15-yard variety) against Minnesota.  

Discipline must ultimately come from the players playing the game on Sunday, but it also needs to be instilled in those players from Monday to Saturday by the men coaching and leading a team. Schwartz, without much question, has failed in that endeavor. 

Suh is his shining example of that failure. 

Does Jim Schwartz share in the blame for Ndamukong Suh's continued actions?

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The league has done its part in policing Suh, through both an escalating series of fines and a two-game suspension in 2011. Six different messages have been sent for Suh to clean up the on-field conduct. 

Now, the requirements fall on the shoulders of Schwartz, who can either get Suh to avoid these mistakes or risk losing one of the game's most dominant defensive lineman for a couple of games. Schwartz simply can't afford to lose Suh for any stretch of a season in which he is most certainly on the hot seat. 

That said, Schwartz's situation is an unenviable one. 

Suh is as talented as he is passionate on the field, and stripping down that passion might hurt how effective he is from play-to-play, game-to-game. It's that never-ending tenacity that fuels Suh's dominance. 

But Schwartz must finally find a happy medium for Suh between passion and football intelligence. As the leader of the Lions, Schwartz remains partly to blame for not instilling that medium in his defensive star before this point. He needs Suh to cooperate, but it's clear that four years of trying haven't gotten through.

Once Schwartz the coach leads the way, maybe Suh the player will follow suit. 

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