Ndamukong Suh Developing Unfair Reputation as “Dirty” Player?

December 10, 2010 by

Different perspectives on Ndamukong Suh paint vastly different pictures on what kind of a player he is.

If you look at the fines and personal fouls he has racked up since entering the NFL, it would be hard not to label him as a dirty player. By those metrics, he almost certainly belongs in the “James Harrison” category.

But then if you see the plays he gets penalized on, it’s hard to understand why he gets penalized on those calls.

Against Marion Barber? Hair is part of the uniform, if you want to grow it, they can pull it. If you disagree, tell me why that play is a 15-yard penalty and this one isn’t, despite looking far more dangerous.

Against Michael Vick? No horse-collar call on a quarterback in the pocket (to the credit of the officiating crew, that was a flag that was thrown, then picked up).

Against Jay Cutler? What appeared initially to be a forearm shiver to the back of the head turned out to actually be a shove to the shoulder pads. Incidentally, pushing has yet to be outlawed by the NFL.

Now, it’s hard to blame Ed Hochuli for making that call in the moment. That’s a tough call in real time, it was a vicious hit, and even I thought it was the right call after seeing it the first time.

Since personal fouls are not reviewable, that play was one that had to stand. It didn’t cost the Lions the game (unlike another questionable call made in a Detroit Lions-Chicago Bears game), not after the Bears drove the ball into the red zone and that call netted the Bears first-and-goal at the six instead of 2nd-and-2 at the 12.

However, my understanding about the call in the first place has been replaced by outrage over two things that have happened since.

First, Hochuli stood by his call after the game, continuing to incorrectly characterize it as a blow to the head and inventing the term “non-football act” on the spot.

Really, Ed? Pushing is a non-football act? How, then, do you not flag every offensive and defensive lineman on every play?

I tend to respect officials who come out and admit when they’ve made a mistake. Hochuli himself apologized after blowing a game-deciding call in a Chargers-Broncos game in 2008 that was so egregious it kicked him down a pay grade.

It was even, as a Detroit Tigers fan, difficult to be angry at a teary-eyed Jim Joyce after he admitted that he “kicked the s**t out of” a call that would have given Armando Galarraga a record-breaking perfect game.

None of that happened here. Hochuli stood by his call, and so did the league.

And that’s why Suh found a $15,000 fine in his mailbox this week for pushing a guy down.

This is the second time Suh has been fined for an “illegal” hit this season, but the first time it has been done without justification.

The first instance of this, the systematic destruction of Jake Delhomme in the preseason, was most certainly an illegal play. The more I see it, the more it looks like something that belongs in Mortal Kombat. The facemask (get over here!) leads into Suh’s apparent attempt to remove Delhomme’s head and spine from his body.

Even if you believe that he thought Delhomme still had the ball, it’s irrelevant. He would have been fined and penalized for that even if Delhomme did still have the ball.

But ever since that play, referees keep one hand on a penalty flag every time Suh approaches a ball carrier, and they’re all too happy to wheel it out on a borderline call.

That’s what happened against the Bears, and for shoving a man down to make a tackle, Suh ended up with a fine of the same size as the one given to Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens for breaking Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.

You’re not going to hear me badmouth the NFL’s new policy on protecting its players. There is enough evidence out there about the long-term effect of head injuries, and one needs only watch an interview with Earl Campbell to understand this is the right thing to do.

But football is one of the world’s most violent sports, and there’s little that can be done to change that without fundamentally changing the game. It has always been about big, strong men being driven into the ground by bigger, stronger men.

Ndamukong Suh falls into the “bigger, stronger” category. So much so that even his clean tackles look illegal, simply because they seem to deal so much damage to the ball carrier.

Admittedly, Suh could use some refining in his tackling technique. He has a bad habit of hitting guys too high, wrapping up their shoulders instead of their waist. This results in a lot of guys getting thrown down or ridden to the ground, instead of dragged down. Of course, that’s still legal as long as he’s not wrapping up their heads, but high tackles are easier to break and result in more incidental facemask calls.

That being said, as long as he’s laying down legal hits, it’s the coaches’ job to refine his tackling, not Ed Hochuli’s.

But because Suh is freakishly strong, his legal-but-violent hits, like the one on Cutler, are being penalized because of perception. If you take Suh out of that play and replace him with a cornerback, then execute the exact same play with the same tackle, there’s no flag and certainly no fine. It’s simply a push down. That’s all Suh did, but because it was a strong 300-pound man that did it, it looked vicious.

And to anyone that sees Suh’s record, a handful of personal fouls and a pair of fines in his rookie season for illegal hits, it looks like the NFL has found a new dirty playmaker.

To anyone that sees Suh play, it looks like the NFL is penalizing Suh for being too big and strong.

Maybe all that preseason weightlifting wasn’t such a good idea after all, Ndamukong. The NFL would like you to be a little kinder and gentler.

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