Ndamukong Suh: Why He Is Back to Being a Dominant Defensive Tackle

Jeff RisdonContributor ISeptember 20, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 16:  Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Lions 38-10.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Ndamukong Suh is one of the most renowned players in the NFL today. Sadly, that notoriety comes from all the wrong reasons. 

When the general fan hears his name, it typically conjures thoughts of infamy. The stomping incident against Green Bay. The near decapitation of Jake Delhomme. The stupid Week 1 low block on John Sullivan, which drew a $100K fine.

Unfortunately, that is only a partial list of his misdeeds. 

Obscured by all those negative memories is the fact that Suh has re-emerged as a dominant football player. He came out of the gate that way, stampeding his way to 10 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery for a touchdown to capture the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year honor. 

The sacks dwindled in his second season, falling to just four, and the narrative about him changed. Because he wasn’t playing as well, the edgy physicality to his game went from being an asset to a punch line. That narrative has largely stuck, even though he played better in 2012. 

His 2013 season has been a throwback to his dominant rookie year. He might even be a better version of that rising force. Even though he has yet to bag a sack, Suh is playing as well as any defensive player in the league so far. 

The biggest reason for the improvement is his effectiveness against the run. For the last couple of seasons, Detroit Lions fans have bemoaned his inability to anticipate or adjust to wham or trap blocks with equal frustration to the regrettable penalties.

Teams figured out how to attack him, and attack they did. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded out Suh at -6.5 against the run in 2012. That ranked him 73rd out of 85 qualifying defensive tackles and detracted from his second-ranked pass-rushing ability. 

Through the first two games of 2013, Suh has raised his grade from -6.5 to 0.3. It’s still not great, but he’s no longer a detriment in run defense. If you ask Andre Ellington after this hit, he probably thinks the grade should be higher.

Suh is lined up in a 3-technique between the right guard and right tackle.

Arizona’s run call is for the guard to delay Suh long enough for the opposite guard to pull across and trap the defensive tackle. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, he explodes past both blockers on his side before they can do anything.

He finishes the tackle with a flying body press, splashing poor Ellington like an elephant squashing a hedgehog. The man assigned to block him, left guard Daryn Colledge, is lying on his belly in the foreground.

Earlier in the game, Suh made a similar play, defeating the block before it could even get to him. 

This is from Arizona's first drive of the game, and it established the tone right away. Suh is aligned as the left defensive tackle. 

Immediately off the snap, center Lyle Sendlein (No. 63) tries to cut block Suh. But he is already in the backfield, and the Cardinals lineman is diving into an empty pool. 

Suh gets a big paw on running back Rashard Mendenhall, and fellow tackle C.J. Mosley (No. 99) finishes him off for a minimal gain. This play never had a chance because of Suh. 

These impact plays against the run were missing from Suh's game over the last couple of seasons. Those cut blocks and trap blocks were catching him unaware, and his inability to recognize or adjust hurt the Lions' run defense.

Not this year.

Oh yeah, he can still rush the passer too. According to the Pro Football Focus game charters, Suh leads all defensive tackles in quarterback hurries with 12, four more than his nearest competitor. That figure ties for the league lead regardless of position, matching 4-3 ends Brian Robison from Minnesota and Oakland's Lamarr Houston

Even though Suh has yet to record a sack, his outstanding play has facilitated sacks by teammates in both games this season. He's also forcing turnovers such as this one from the opener against Minnesota.

Suh is lined up in his normal left defensive tackle position. Off the snap, he goes with a bull rush, which drives right guard Brandon Fusco backward as if he’s on ice skates. Fusco needs help and gets it from center John Sullivan, who slides over to double-team Suh.

Not even the double-team can slow down Suh here. He splits it like a shifty point guard driving the lane. He actually runs into right tackle Phil Loadholt, who has been torched by Willie Young (No. 79), and Young forces Christian Ponder to flee the pocket. That makes three linemen with their hands on Suh.

Three are not enough. Suh blasts through the troika of blockers and tracks down Ponder. The Vikings QB tries to throw the ball, but Suh impacts his follow through, and the ball floats gently to a waiting Stephen Tulloch for an interception. The ensuing drive resulted in a Joique Bell touchdown just before halftime.

Lions fans know how well Suh has been playing this year. It’s time the wider narrative on him changes. He is the best defensive tackle in the NFL this year, but most folks only know about his dirty play and massive fine.

If he keeps performing at this level—and there is every reason to believe he willit’s only a matter of time before his fantastic play is grabbing the headlines.

All statistics are taken from NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. All screenshots are taken from NFL Game Rewind, which requires a subscription to view the games.