TEMPE, Ariz. — Hide the women and children. Ndamukong Suh is coming to town.
The NFL’s poster child for how not to act on a football field also happens to be one of the game’s better interior defensive linemen.
“The only thing I evaluate is tape, and when I watch tape, I see a great football player—high energy, high passion, disruptive three-technique,” Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday. “All the rest of the stuff I don’t have to deal with.”
It’s the rest of the stuff that’s earned the Detroit Lions’ fourth-year defensive tackle the reputation of a dirty player. For two straight years now, he’s come in first place in a Sporting News poll asking NFL players to name the dirtiest player in the league.
The latest example: A low block on the left knee of Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan Sunday.
“This was a case where one of his teammates intercepted a ball and he was working really hard to try to get a block,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz explained to reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “But the player was behind and it was an offensive lineman. If that was a wide receiver or running back, that’s a good attempt to get that guy blocked because he might catch our linebacker; an offensive lineman wasn’t going to catch him. It’s a learning experience.”
The league fined Suh $100,000. He’s since announced he’s appealing the six-figure hit to his bank account, but he’s also apologized to his teammates.
“It was a step in the right direction,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Obviously it’s a play that we can’t have. He played well the rest of the game and it got overshadowed by a stupid play that cost not only him, but our team, and he knows that. We can’t have that. We’ve got to move forward from it now. We can’t let it bother us the rest of the season. He’s got to make better decisions on the field and he knows that.”
Whether he does or doesn’t is debatable.
Suh now has been fined six times, totaling $177,500: Twice as a rookie for hits on quarterbacks and once for using an opponent for leverage on a field goal. The first was in 2011 for a preseason hit on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and the second was in 2012 for kicking Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin on Thanksgiving.
“I think over the last couple of years, he’s really made a very strong effort to change the way he plays, particularly with quarterbacks in the pocket and different things like that,” Schwartz said.
The Cardinals, at least publicly, see Suh only as a player who, since entering the NFL in 2010, has the second-most sacks and most combined sacks and tackles-for-loss on rushing plays by defensive tackles with 38.5 (22 sacks, 16.5 TFLs).
“The fact of the matter is I could care less what Suh’s reputation is,” left guard Daryn Colledge said. “I know what he can do on the field. I know how he plays on the field. We know what kind of challenge it’s going to bring. Whether he gets caught up in dirty plays or not, that’s for the cameras to decide and for the NFL to decide. But for us, we know what we’re getting every single down, and that’s a guy who’s going to work from whistle to whistle.”