Contrary to Popular Belief: Ndamukong Suh Was Stellar Once Again in 2015
During the 2015 season, many conjured up an unfortunate narrative regarding Dolphins’ defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. After posting mind-boggling stats during his time in Detroit, Suh struggled to make an impact in the box score during his first year in Miami. Many felt that this was an indicator of struggles during his inaugural season with the Dolphins. However, this is far from accurate, as Suh was once again a force on the defensive line.
In the NFL, production is king. During Ndamukong Suh’s time with the Detroit Lions, he filled up box scores with an immense impact both stopping the run and rushing the passer. During Suh’s first season in Miami, his statistical impact was less evident. After being given the richest contract of any defensive player in the league, those who make evaluations based on statistics deemed that Suh was a nonfactor in Miami. This form of cursory analysis does not properly reflect Suh’s impact as a player.
Ndamukong Suh’s Impact in Miami:
For obvious reasons, networks and highlight reels favor offensive players or big defensive plays like interceptions or strip sacks. Defensive line play doesn’t get ratings. This, coupled with the Dolphins’ poor record last season, could have contributed to the lack of attention given to Ndamukong Suh’s play. In 2015, he continued to show why he is one of the league’s most dominant defensive linemen.
Suh has an impact in the run game, can disrupt passes at the line, and creates opportunities for other players on the defense to make big plays. He can draw heavy resources from offensive lines attempting to block him, opening up lanes for others to rush into the backfield. I decided to review Suh’s 2015 season, and provide some examples of moments in which he showed his true impact on the Dolphins’ defense.
On several occasions, Ndamukong Suh was able to create trouble for offenses by batting passes down at the line of scrimmage. In today’s NFL, most associate this ability with JJ Watt, who has mastered the timing and instinct needed to block the opposing quarterback’s throw. However, Suh also is able to disrupt passes at the line.
Suh boasts an impressive vertical for a player of his size, and is able to use his long arms to stop passes before they even reach the line of scrimmage.
Team Impact of Double Blocking:
One of the ways that Ndamukong Suh can contribute on defense is by drawing double blocking. This allows one of the defenders to have a clean shot into the backfield on many occasions. The Dolphins do not have the linebacker talent that allows them to truly use this benefit to its fullest, but they were at times able to exploit offenses based on the attention paid to Suh.
During the Miami Dolphins’ Week 8 matchup with the New England Patriots, there were two plays in which Suh’s impact when drawing blockers became evident.
During the play showed above, the Patriots block Ndamukong Suh with two linemen. Tre Jackson and Cameron Fleming are preoccupied with Suh, and Jelani Jenkins is able to slip around the cluster of bodies drawn by Suh to come up with the stop. He stuffs Dion Lewis and the play goes for no gain thanks to the lack of attention paid to Jenkins.
On another play during that same game, the attention Suh commands allowed Cameron Wake to sack Tom Brady.
David Andrews and Tre Jackson are assigned to block Ndamukong Suh, which leaves Cameron Fleming blocking Cameron Wake one on one. As Dolphins fans know, any time you get Cameron Wake one on one with a blocker, he should have some success. In the past, Wake’s status as the best pass rusher on the team drew him double blocks on almost every play. With Suh’s presence, Wake was able to take advantage of lesser attention (in the games he played before going down with a torn Achilles).
Blowing Up Plays:
Ndamukong Suh also displays a great deal of strength in the run game, which allows him to blow up plays or close down running lanes. During the team’s game against the Ravens, Suh made two dominant plays against the run.
On this play, the Ravens are handing the ball off in the direction opposite Suh. Instead of taking the ball outside, an inward cut by the runner means that Suh has a chance to make a play. He uses his quickness and strength to drag the offensive lineman across the formation, and when he sees the running back approach he is able to change direction, use strength to stay on his feet, and clog the running lane.
On this next play, Suh’s dominance was on full display against a double block in the run game.
Suh is blocked by two offensive linemen on this play. When the ball is snapped and handed off, Javorius Allen heads to Suh’s side. Almost instantly Suh is able to burst through both offensive linemen and blow up the play. Even when blocked by two offensive linemen, Suh is able to completely stop a play in its tracks. That play serves as a perfect example of how suddenly Suh can take over at the line of scrimmage.
If Ndamukong Suh is able to do that when blocked by two linemen, think about what he can do when faced with single blocking.
On the play above, Ndamukong Suh uses his surprising quickness to slip past John Jerry and stop Rashad Jennings in the backfield. He makes it look too easy. Just a simple slide off of the lineman, and he is able to throw down the running back as if he were tackling a middle school player. The domination on this play is one of the many eye-popping demonstrations of Suh’s strength and quickness.
Week Nine VS. the Eagles:
In the Dolphins’ Week 9 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Ndamukong Suh was able to dominate on a level that is rarely seen. This did not manifest itself in the form of sacks (which explains the lack of attention), however Suh was creating chaos in the backfield from the opening whistle until the clock hit zero.
Yes, the Eagles have a subpar offense. Yes, their running game was one of the least consistent in the NFL during 2015. However this should not diminish what Suh was able to do against them. He probably could have legally declared the Eagles’ backfield as his place of residence. These were actually just a few of Suh’s big plays. He was creating chaos for the Eagles all day.
Explaining Suh’s Perceived “Struggle”:
When Ndamukong Suh arrived in Miami, many assumed based on his contract that he would be a highly productive player in terms of sacks. This is a fair assumption if someone had not yet studied Suh’s history, but upon further examination it is easy to see that he actually did have a strong impact relative to his previous campaigns.
Only once in Suh’s career did he post double digit sacks. During his rookie year in Detroit, he dropped the opposing quarterback 10 times. However, since the 2010 season Suh had not reached that plateau again. He did not decline as a player at all, he was simply surrounded by better players over the course of his career in Detroit who could take advantage of the attention he drew from offenses.
Suh posted 4, 8, 5.5, and 8.5 sacks respectively in 2011-2014. During his first season in Miami, he posted 6. This is higher than his output from 2 of his 5 seasons in Detroit. With that being said, 6 sacks is actually a very good figure for a defensive tackle. Playing inside, it is harder to get to the quarterback than it is for edge rushers. Suh’s 6 sacks are a solid figure, as most of his impact truly comes from the ways in which he creates openings for other contributors to come up with big plays.
Lack of Linebacker Talent:
One of the best ways to utilize Ndamukong Suh is actually to utilize other positions. Based on the resources allocated to him by opposing offensive linemen, a defense can be much more creative with their use of linebacker blitzes.
Suh is such a valuable player because he affects the offense on every single play. He must be accounted for, which means he must be blocked with multiple players or shifting plays specifically to avoid having him flatten a quarterback or ball carrier. This means that you can use linebackers in a way that takes advantage of the opposition’s attempts at neutralizing Suh.
The problem is that the Miami Dolphins did not have the proper talent required to execute this. They could not get players on the field who had the ability or explosiveness to shoot gaps and make tackles in the backfield. Kelvin Sheppard struggled mightily, and Koa Misi does not have the requisite physical abilities that are found in solid pass rushers. Jelani Jenkins made solid plays when he was able to find gaps, but struggled reading the offensive blocking. This will improve as Jenkins gains more experience.
This is one of the main arguments for the Dolphins targeting linebackers heavily before 2016. If they are going to pay the handsome price Ndamukong Suh commands, they should do everything they can to establish toughness in the front seven. In order to do that, they will need to improve the linebacker corps.
Often it appeared that Ndamukong Suh was gassed on defense. He was not rushing as ferociously, and he seemed to run out of steam late in games.
In Detroit, Ndamukong Suh had plenty of help on defense. Between Nick Fairley, Stephen Tulloch, Deandre Levy, and others, he had plenty of productive teammates. In Miami, once Cameron Wake went down, Suh and Vernon were the only threats on the defensive line. The team also couldn’t threaten offenses with linebacker blitzes, which meant that offenses could block Suh and Vernon sufficiently on every play. This certainly could have worn on Suh throughout games, as he dealt with a lethal combination of greater responsibility and lesser assistance.
Ndamukong Suh was also on the field much more in Miami than he was in Detroit. Detroit ranked in the top six teams in the NFL for average time of possession from 2012-2014. One factor that contributes to time of possession is the ability of a defense to stop opponents on 3rd down. In 2012, the Detroit Lions were 8th in opponent 3rd down percentage. In 2013, they were the best team in the league in that category. In 2014, they ranked 6th.
Now, some context: In 2015, the Miami Dolphins ranked 15th in opponent third down conversion percentage. This contributed to their abysmal ranking in time of possession, an area in which they were 30th in the NFL. This meant that Suh was on the field more due to inability on the offensive side of the ball, and lack of 3rd down stops by the defense.
Yes, Ndamukong Suh did appear to suffer from fatigue at some points during the 2015 season. The reason question is, can you blame him?
Statistics tell part of the story. They are a valuable source of verification and can point out interesting trends related to a team or player. While this is true, they are not capable of telling the whole story.
The Miami Dolphins’ 2015 season was a disappointment in almost every regard. However, many cite the individual performances of Reshad Jones and Jarvis Landry as bright spots in a dismal year. Ndamukong Suh deserves to be in that same conversation.
Suh was brought in to dominate at the line of scrimmage, and establish toughness on a Dolphins’ defense that desperately needed a tone setter. While his numbers don’t jump out at you, Ndamukong Suh was able to perform valiantly in 2015 with almost no help around him. He had Olivier Vernon as one pass rusher, who was highly inconsistent. On the other side, he only had Cameron Wake for half of a season. The team’s linebacker corps? Not worth mentioning at this point.
Considering what he had to work with on the Dolphins’ defense, Ndamukong Suh performed in 2015. Hopefully, the narrative that he is overpaid for his contract was a poor move by Miami can be put to bed eventually. Yes, technically he was overpaid, but aren’t many of the league’s top players? The Dolphins paid a premium for a player who is one of the top three defensive tackles in the NFL. In 2015, Suh did not magically lose his elite ability. He was the same, dominant player.
The Miami Dolphins now need to construct their defense around the ability of Ndamukong Suh. If they are able to build a stout unit with Suh as the nucleus, it will go a long way towards establishing the mindset that the Dolphins need to become a consistent team on the defensive side of the ball.
It is not just what Ndamukong Suh needs. It is what he deserves.