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