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Why Ndamukong Suh was worth bringing back

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With all the debate surrounding Suh’s contract signing, I’m here to show you why his impact isn’t always on the stat sheet.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Tennessee Titans
Ndamukong Suh #93 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

On March 25th of this year, Ndamukong Suh re-signed a 1-year $8 million dollar contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not he is worth what he is being paid.

A lot of naysayers cite that his statistics weren’t worth the signing and that he is a washed up version of his former self. Those that defend him, usually state that he brings a lot more to the team that just stats. Now, what does that mean exactly? Usually, when people use this argument, they are showing their biases and using a vague argument to justify their happiness with the signing.

Since I usually see these arguments and brush them off as bias, I normally don’t agree with them. However, with Suh I felt that there was actually some truth to that. So, I decided to take a look and see where the former Nebraska Cornhusker made contributions off the stat sheet.

Before I get into that though, I wanted to list a few statistical reasons as to why he may not look like the player he once was on a typical stat-line. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, Suh played only 77% of the defensive snaps, ranking dead last in his usage across the entirety of his career.* Less snaps lead to less stats. Another one that stood out to me was his 14 QB hits which obviously don’t show up as sacks, but demonstrate that he can still get to the QB.*

Alright, let’s start looking at what he brings to the Bucs outside of pure statistical contributions:

HE’S VERY DISRUPTIVE

Oftentimes, Suh makes his way down the line of scrimmage and clogs run gaps that the play was designed to go through. This not only slows down the runner, but it also provides opportunities for other defenders to make the play. Look at an example from the week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers:

Notice the hole that Kyle Juszczyk (#44) runs through, this usually indicates that the ball is intended to go through that hole. Suh beats the guard to the his play-side shoulder, opens up wide in the gap right as Matt Breida (#22) gets there. This causes him to cut back and get tackled for a minimal gain.

Suh was a big reason for this play’s lack of success but this doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.

Now take a look at a 3rd and 1 against the Carolina Panthers in week 2:

Both teams are lined up in a goal line set with Suh lined up inside the extra tackle on the line of scrimmage. The second the play starts, Suh gets upfield, forces the pulling guard to backtrack and get to his assignment late. This happens about 3 yards behind the line and leads to a TFL from Jack Cichy (#48).

Again, this also won’t show up on the stat sheet.

Here’s Suh bullying the Colts’ center that leads to a TFL:

His step is so quick once the ball is snapped that the center doesn’t even have time to get to him. He causes Nyheim Hines (#21) to cut back and get tackled for a 1 yard loss on the play.

Even though big ol’ 93 does get there at the end, Andrew Adams was given credit for this tackle.

Now let’s take a look at a Vita Vea (#50) tackle in a very tight game against the Houston Texans in week 16.

Notice that Suh, once again, gets upfield to disrupt a running lane. Vita Vea gets the stat here for a TFL, but Suh is the reason that it was possible. Carlos Hyde (#23) gets met 3 yards in the backfield and has absolutely nowhere to go.

I can’t even tell you how many times I saw this sort of thing on film. Here’s another clip from the same game:

It’s starting to get tiring at this point since it happens so much. Suh beats the guard to the inside, pushes him upfield, and slows down Carlos Hyde before he even had a chance to get going.

This won’t show up on the stat sheet either.

HE CAN STILL RUSH THE PASSER

The above section demonstrated his disruption in the run game, showing that he doesn’t get a lot of statistical credit for that, now here’s a few examples to show the same thing in the pass game.

I will concede that his pass rushing skills have declined over the years, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely useless there either. While he only recorded 2.5 sacks, he still makes a difference. As I said before, he did have 14 QB hits, which ranked 3rd on the team in 2019.*

Here’s a pretty good example of his pass rush ability, this is one of the better rushes I saw from him this year. This comes from the week 2 game against the Panthers, which was his worst statistical game of the season. I mention that because this is the second stat-less play that he had a major impact on in that game alone.

Now he misses the sack, which isn’t great. But, look how quickly he beats the guard. He makes a move, then a quick counter swim move to leave the poor man on the turf. He grabs Cam Newton (#1) for a moment, but Cam eventually gets away. The result of this play was an incompletion that was caused because Suh forced him quickly out of the pocket.

Here’s another pass rush that he had against the Colts that led to an incompletion on 3rd and 10:

Suh gets there in 2 seconds (literally), forcing Jacoby Brissett (#7) to throw early, missing his target by quite a bit. These are the sorts of plays that have impacts in close games and don’t get recorded.

HE STILL PLAYS WITH INTENSITY

Suh has always been known for his absolute cut-throat mentality. He would often be penalized, fined, and was even suspended for playing fairly dirty. This mentality often showed up on the field and he would play incredibly hard through the duration of the game.

These days, many people refer to him as lazy, disinterested, or loafing. While I did notice a few of these instances, I think they were more so attributable to the ball being run away from him. While this is still a negative, the label of lazy doesn’t fit him.

Not only do the above plays show the sort of intensity he plays with to this day, but this next example shows some of the hustle that many say he is lacking:

I said above that his low motor plays often happen when the ball is away from him, this is the exact opposite of that. He sees the screen go away from his side, yet he still runs downfield to make a tackle after a 10 yard gain.

This is something we expect of all players in the NFL so this isn’t some spectacular, Devin White running down Chris Carson play, but it does highlight that he still makes the effort and doesn’t “loaf.”

One play that I wanted to highlight doesn’t really fit in the disruption section since he did actually make the tackle here, so I want to include it here since it once again shows his intensity. Here’s another play from week 1:

On this particular play he plays like a man possessed. He goes head to head with the guard, quickly pulls him out of the way, and hits the runner 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

HE BRINGS A VETERAN PRESENCE

The guy has been in the league since 2010 and has definitely seen a thing or two. This sort of experience is invaluable for incoming rookies who are still getting acclimated to life in the NFL.

In my piece about Ndamukong Suh’s re-signing, I noted that Devin White was very excited about the signing because Suh is “one of the greatest, smartest [and] hardest working vet(s) that [he has] ever been around.”

Here’s that tweet:

Since the defense is incredibly young, they must oftentimes rely on their veterans for their experience in game time situations. Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh seem to be the three main vets these young guys looks up to, and for good reason. These three have been cornerstone defenders for their respective franchises through the years.

HE’S A KEY PIECE TO THIS DEFENSE

The youth on the defensive side on the ball is a double edged sword really. On one hand, young players are more athletically inclined and still have a lot of gas in the tank. On the other, they’re inexperience often gets them in trouble.

When young players are working with veterans to learn a new system, consistency helps. Knowing how all of your fellow teammates play, knowing where they are going to be, and forming that trust that they’ll be there every time provides confidence and elevates the play of all pieces involved.

Consistency is key to working with one another successfully, and Bruce Arians knows this as he stated:

“I wanted the entire defense, if we could, to stay together. They played so well together; each piece of the puzzle knew each other. Suh was a big, big part of it, obviously – not as much in the sack game as much as the interior pressure and the great job he did last year against the run. We were number-one against the run in the league last year, and a lot of it was because of he and [Vita] Vea.”**

This sort of cohesion as a unit takes years to develop, and each year this defense stays together is another year that they’ll build confidence and trust. While this side of the ball has been quite underwhelming in recent years, I expect that they’ll be playing much better in the upcoming season, and this consistency will only help that.

CONCLUSION

No matter what you think of Suh, he is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer for at least another season. With that being said, I hope that taking a look at the above examples really showed that he truly does contribute in other areas. His disruption in the run and pass game, along with his veteran leadership and consistency really made it easy for the Buccaneers to bring him back for another year.

While his contract was a bit on the high side at $8 million, I personally think his presence and leadership are worth it. 1-year contracts often cost more than longer deals, and he is currently the 28th highest paid DE (technically a DE in this 3-4 base) as of now according to Spotrac.com. This isn’t top money, nor should it be, but it just shows that his contract isn’t exorbitant.

Poll

After taking the time to look this through, what do you think?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    He was worth bringing back
    (551 votes)
  • 2%
    He was NOT worth bringing back
    (15 votes)
566 votes total Vote Now

* According to Pro Football Reference

**From Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com