Ndamukong Suh gets more attention than most defensive tackles because his reputation precedes him. He was not suspended for the kicking incident against the Texans. (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)
Allen Park — Another traffic ticket, another on-field incident that's mostly a non-incident, another burst of noise. Ndamukong Suh is testing the limits, as he often does, and the reaction is ridiculously loud, as it often is.
Is Suh Fatigue a problem for the Lions? Somewhat. Is it the biggest problem for the Lions? Not even close.
Suh pushes the pedal in every way, and he certainly needs to check himself off the field. He's either one of America's worst drivers — with news of another ticket, this for aggressive driving — or he just can't slow himself. That's no excuse, no matter how minor the incidents. The guy needs to stay out of trouble, period.
But please don't overreact and suggest Suh can be easily dismissed, or readily replaced. Talented defensive tackles in their prime are one of the NFL's rarest commodities, and you don't trade them. Of course, Suh's Thanksgiving kick at Houston quarterback Matt Schaub stirred irrational hysteria, broken down as if it were the Suh-pruder film. Whether it was inadvertent or vaguely purposeful, it certainly doesn't belong in the same box as his infamous Thanksgiving stomp, and the NFL was correct in not suspending him.
Suh needs to deal with issues better, sure. But the Lions aren't the first team to put up with controversy to tap the skills of a potential superstar. It's a simple concept in sports: The more a player puts up, the more a team is willing to put up with.
Jim Schwartz adamantly defends Suh, recognizing the Lions desperately need him. If he's at his best, he's a premier defensive tackle. He hasn't been at his best the past two seasons, but he's increasingly effective lately. Quietly (or not so quietly), he's having a good year.
In the Lions' losses to Green Bay and Houston, Suh was a force on the field, if not on the stat sheet. He was credited with 10 quarterback disruptions — three hits and seven hurries — on Schaub, although he didn't record a single tackle.
True to Suh-mania, all the attention was directed not at a hit, but a kick. The jab at Schaub's groin generated angry criticism from national commentators and snippy retorts from Schaub and other Texans players. Some was warranted, some was illogical. Suh's head was down as he fell, and turned away from the quarterback when his leg flailed. Careless? Absolutely. Maliciously intentional? That's a reach.
I understand why there's so much noise. Suh does himself no favors with his attitude at times, but football is rife with edgy characters, especially on defense, from the days of Dick Butkus to the terror reign of Ray Lewis. I think that's why fans like Suh a lot more than his peers and commentators do. He plays with a nastiness Lions fans haven't often seen.
With the media, Suh can be arrogant and dismissive, which is strange when you see his gleaming countenance in commercials and his generous charitable work. He's the two-time reigning NFL Dirtiest Player, according to a Sporting News poll of players, a label he doesn't agree with, but doesn't fight.
This is not a gentlemanly game, if you haven't noticed. And for all the concern about Suh's on-field anger, he has exactly one penalty this year, an offside call. In fact, since his Thanksgiving stomp on Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith a year ago, which earned him a two-game suspension, Suh has three penalties and no personal fouls. Frankly, he's been a much bigger menace on the roads, involved in at least five incidents in the past two years, which is absurd.
Whether testing limits in a car or in pads, Suh needs to recognize either is capable of creating a distraction.
"I think anytime you're a high-profile player, there's gonna be cameras on you every single play," Schwartz said Tuesday. "If that (kick) had been a lot of other guys on the field, nobody would've even spoken twice about it. That's something he'll just have to deal with and live with probably his whole career."
Better than his numbers
The Lions and any other team will live with it as long as most of Suh's disruptions occur in the opposition's backfield.
He only has 20 tackles and 4.5 sacks this season — he had 66 tackles and 10 sacks his rookie year — and there have been murmurs about his productivity. There even was that anonymous GM quote suggesting Suh should be on the "all-hype" team.
Maybe he should. But there's a reason he's hyped, and Schwartz insists Suh's effort is much better than his numbers. He compared him to Dwight Freeney, who will be in Ford Field with the Colts on Sunday. Watching game tapes, Schwartz said he saw a fiercely disruptive Freeney. Then looking at statistics, he saw two sacks all year for Freeney.
Do the Lions sometimes make excuses for Suh? Yep. But they're committed to him for two years after this, and it doesn't matter if he really intends to leave when his contract ends. The Lions need to extract from him everything they can, good, bad or indifferent.
Suh tests patience and limits, as hyped players do. He still can make a major impact here, which he says is his only goal. Hitting quarterbacks, not cars, is the preferred way to do it.