Dirty little secret about Suh, Lions

BY Jason Whitlock • October 24, 2011

Ndamukong Suh might be the biggest casualty of the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, the deal that severely curtails padded and full-contact practices.

“Suh is a blind dog let loose in a meat house,” a former all-time great defensive lineman told me in the aftermath of Detroit’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Suh is doggone mad if you believe the Falcons. Receiver Roddy White and center Todd McClure claim Suh trashed-talked Matt Ryan as the quarterback writhed in pain with what looked like a serious knee or ankle injury in the third quarter.

“I had respect for Suh before the game,” McClure told Atlanta sportswriters. “But when Matt was on the ground, the things he was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for.”

White added: “I lost a whole lot of respect for 90 today.”

Football is a funny, hypocritical, dangerous and violent endeavor. The combatants try to hurt each other, but they never want to see an opponent injured. There’s a difference. No group is more in tune with that difference than the NFL, a league inhabited by young men from tough backgrounds who are responsible for loved ones unable to escape poverty’s harsh realities.

Suh, who downplayed the Falcons’ allegations, might have crossed a serious line.

Why? How has a kid who left the University of Nebraska with such a sterling, on-and-off-the-field reputation transformed from the second coming of Reggie White’s Minister of Defense into bizarro Mean Joe Greene?

Ndamukong Suh, dirty player? Having witnessed Suh’s destruction of the Big 12 Conference, no way would I have ever believed that would be Suh’s NFL reputation. Before the 2010 draft, one of my favorite sportswriters, ESPN’s Liz Merrill, profiled Suh. She quoted a former Suh opponent praising the Outland Trophy winner for his relentless, classy and non-trash-talking style of play.

Suh, with his late and illegal hits on quarterbacks and trash talk, has broken character. Why?

He can’t practice his craft. And, given the circumstances, he might have the wrong coaches. Head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are the NFL’s version of Bo and Carl Pelini, the dynamic duo at Nebraska. Schwartz, Cunningham and the Pelinis are all certifiable — crazy. Put them in the right laboratory and they’ll cook up a defensive batch that would make Walter White of "Breaking Bad" green with envy.

With Suh manning the middle and Tuesday and Wednesday practices to go full speed in pads, the Pelinis cooked up a college defense that was nearly impossible to penetrate. Opponents couldn’t run, pass or score on the 2009 Cornhuskers. The Pelinis unleashed a beast.

So far this year — with the new CBA rules limiting padded practices to 14 a season (that is not a typographical error) — Schwartz and Cunningham have unleashed Frankenstein, a monster they can’t control and a monster who is playing a key role in destroying the Lions.

That’s right. In the NFL, you can practice in full pads only 14 times during the regular season. Eleven of those practices must occur once a week during the first 11 weeks of the season. That’s not nearly enough practice time for a young defensive lineman. That’s not nearly enough practice time to fix a run defense as broken as the Lions'.

I know Gunther Cunningham. He knows how to stop the run. I’ve seen him do it while working as defensive coordinator for Marty Schottenheimer, an old, intelligent linebacker much like Jim Schwartz.

Marty was the king of the 2-1/2-hour, full-contact practice on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Marty loved the Oklahoma/hamburger drill in training camp. Marty beat toughness into a team two days a week and once on Sundays.

The Lions are not tough. They give up 5 yards per rushing attempt. On Sunday, Atlanta’s Michael Turner (122 yards) picked up where Frank Gore, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson left off against Detroit. It’s not that difficult to gash the Lions on the ground, especially if the opposing offensive coordinator gets beyond his fear of running directly at Ndamukong Suh.

“He’s a blind dog let loose in a meat house.”

He’s a mad dog. He’s untrained. He can be fooled, trapped, influence blocked, tugged. You can never overpower him. But you can get in his way, prevent him from finding the football and stop him from protecting the linebackers.

There’s a rage that must burn inside of a great defensive tackle. The same rage can be found in a middle linebacker and strong safety. The trio — DT, MLB, SS — forms the heart of a defense. The rage meter is set the highest for the great defensive tackle. His fire must burn the hottest. His fire is the hardest to control. If left unattended, his blaze will engulf the team.

The Lions, losers of two straight, are on fire. They’re undisciplined and unsound, particularly on defense. I’m not sure it can be fixed this season.

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