It’s become clear that the Detroit Lions have developed a reputation as a feisty, borderline dirty team. And the poster boy for the “Dirty Lions” has clearly become Nnamukong Suh.
On Sunday, Suh was once again called out by players on an opposing team for his tact (or lack thereof). Falcons center Todd McClure and receiver Roddy White both said they’d lost respect for the second-year defensive lineman after he allegedly taunted injured quarterback Matt Ryan.
“I had respect for Suh before the game,” McClure said. “But when Matt was on the ground, the things he was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don’t do. [He said], ‘Get the cart’ and several other things that I can’t repeat.”
Roddy White said, “I lost a whole lot of respect for 90 [Suh] today, and also 92 [Cliff Avril], the [bleep] they were doing when Matt got hurt. That was unacceptable. … Like 92 was kicking [Ryan’s] feet, saying, ‘Get him off the field.’ We don’t do stuff like that. We don’t rally over guys when they get hurt. It was just inappropriate behavior. I mean, ‘Get the cart’? Are you serious? Come on. When you compete, you never want to see a guy get hurt.”
Earlier in the game, Suh dodged a flag when he shoved Atlanta’s Joe Hawley to the ground well after the whistle had gone. He also took a facemask penalty on Ryan.
As we documented in late August, this isn’t the first time Suh has come under fire for his questionable antics. The 24-year-old has been fined on three separate occasions for illegal hits. But his mean streak is part of his game, and it’s a big reason why he was the league’s defensive player of the year in 2010.
That’s why Suh isn’t backing down. In fact, he defended himself against White in rather insulting fashion, telling the media on Monday that he didn’t care for “Rodney White’s” respect, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Either Suh thinks he was being ripped by a former Detroit Pistons forward, he doesn’t know White’s actual given name, or he’s just tossing some more disrespect in White’s direction. Either way, he’s right. NFL players aren’t here to make friends, especially with opponents. Why should Ndamukong Suh care what anyone but his coaches and teammates thinks of him? Oh, and maybe his mom.
And that’s a good thing for Lions fans, because history would seem to indicate that he — and maybe the team as a whole — will never overcome the dirty stereotype that exists. Because now everyone else in the NFL is expecting shenanigans from Suh and Co. They’re watching for it, and they may think they’re seeing it where it might not even exist.
Suh defended himself today, urging anyone to watch the tape and identify any taunting. When he was asked why Falcons players would accuse him of mockery if he was in fact innocent, he wondered aloud if it’s “because the media continues to call me a dirty player and yet can’t prove it.”
That’s what happens when you lose the benefit of the doubt. Players are watching for Suh to act up, especially on plays like the one in which Ryan was injured. The slightest of celebratory-like movements might have been enough to make up White’s mind. Same with McClure and whoever else was in the area with their taunt radar turned on.
So Suh will escape this controversy unscathed, but he’s now taking heat for more than just his alleged tomfoolery between plays. The Lions are off to an unprecedented start, but surprisingly, Suh has very little to do with their early-season success. He’s been struggling to get to the quarterback (three sacks in seven games after recording 10 as a rookie) and Detroit’s run defense is surrendering an abysmal five yards per carry, which is half-a-yard worse than last season.
In his defense, Suh is facing more double teams than he did in 2010. But All-Pro defensive tackles find ways to overcome those obstacles. And the Lions are actually much deeper in the front seven this season, so you can’t peg it on a lack of support.
In a column that can only be described as Grade-A BS, FoxSports.com’s Jason Whitlock wonders if the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement restricting padded practices could somehow be playing a role, claiming that Jim Schwartz and his coaching staff “have unleashed Frankenstein, a monster they can’t control and a monster who is playing a key role in destroying the Lions.”
I don’t think a lack of what Whitlock essentially calls learned toughness is what’s hurting the Lions on defense, and I don’t agree with the assessment that Suh is a “blind dog let loose in a meat house.” I think Suh’s level of aggression is right on the money (despite the obvious negative side effects) and I don’t think his reemergence will require systemic changes.
Instead, I think he’s dealing with the same thing that has infected Mike Williams in Tampa and Sam Bradford in St. Louis. It’s a sophomore slump.
But with the offense starting to slow and Mattew Stafford hurt and the losses suddenly adding up, he’ll have to find a cure quickly. Otherwise, the Lions will find themselves out of the playoffs for the 12th straight year.