Suh dials up assists for Detroit's defense

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
7:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh has no use for personal statistics. He really doesn’t. At least that’s what the defensive tackle says.

His explanation is simple -- as long as one of his teammates makes the play, it doesn’t matter if he records the actual sack or batted pass or quarterback hurry. As long as it gets done, he’s OK with that.

And that, frankly, might be a stat all on its own -- the Suh stat.

“It’s fun for me to feed people plays,” Suh said. “It’s exciting because even though it may not show up on the stat sheet, but it is showing up on someone else’s stat sheet.”

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinNdamukong Suh's presence has opened up opportunities for Ezekiel Ansah and the rest of the Detroit's front line.
Like the assist in basketball, the potential Suh stat could go to forcing an opponent into a mistake, or making a quarterback roll right into another Detroit defensive line, like what when he accomplished that Sunday against Washington, forcing Robert Griffin III to run right into a waiting Ziggy Ansah for the sack.

Suh may not have the gaudy statistics this season -- just eight tackles and no sacks -- but he is the reason the Lions have been a defense forcing turnovers and generally haranguing quarterbacks.

The Detroit Lions may have the most dominant defensive line in the NFL, but it all starts in the middle of the line, with one of the league’s most polarizing players because of how he plays on the field.

“Does he demand that much attention? Have you seen him get off the ball,” defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “You wanna know, I pretty much guarantee, man, that an offense knows where that guy’s two digits are, that nine-oh. I pretty much guarantee they know where that guy is on that play.

“He is the type of player where he can destroy a game.”

Or at least a well-designed game plan.

Suh’s play forces teams to choose whether to double him in the middle. When they do, it opens up rush lanes for fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley as well as the starting defensive ends, Willie Young and Ansah.

Together, the four -- when all healthy -- have been able to punish opposing offensive lines. Linebacker DeAndre Levy's two interceptions this season were a result of pressures in the backfield from Suh.

The pass cornerback Chris Houston picked off against Washington on Sunday came because Young chased down Robert Griffin III.

The front four provides so much pressure that defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham can be more aggressive with his players in the back seven. He rarely has to worry about his four defensive linemen not being able to penetrate into an opposing backfield.

“It’s just awesome the way they get upfield,” linebacker Rocky McIntosh said. “You know, it takes a couple of guys to block those guys so ultimately it either leaves us free or we receive the junk. They are making the plays.

“It’s kind of a two-way fold, but it’s great to have a D-line like that, that demands that kind of respect.”

The depth helps as well. Even though Detroit lost Jason Jones for the year with a torn patellar tendon, the Lions can insert either Young, former Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije or rookie Devin Taylor into the lineup. Or use all three in a rotation at the two end spots along with Ansah.

The options, in many ways, are what make the Lions' front four even more interesting.

"Ultimately we’ve been good. No, but we’re not even close to our full potential yet," Idonije said. "We still have a lot of great ahead of us with guys in that room. We’ve been able to do some great things just off talent and ability but there’s still a lot of room, still a lot of ceiling there."

The depth and talent allows for this: Detroit is blitzing -- defined as five or more rushers on a given play -- on 22.5 percent of opponent’s drop backs this season, the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL. Much of the reason has to do with the front four's pressure.

The Lions aren’t getting great percentages out of sacks per drop back (4.7 percent), but Detroit is also intercepting 4.2 percent of attempted throws, good enough for fourth in the NFL. Many of those interceptions had to do with the defensive line pressure.

Much of that starts with Suh.

“He’s played outstanding,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “It’s more so been the effect that he’s had on the offenses and what’s happened with other defensive players. He’s created plays for our other defensive players, more so than filling the stat sheet up himself.

“He’s been very consistent and has made an impact in every single game.”

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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