(Ed. note: Bumped to the front page.)
In 2010, Ndamukong Suh became the centerpiece of a defensive front that after one year warranted a city-wide nicknaming craze that included the head coach. He exploded onto the scene with 5 sacks in his first 6 games, ended the season with 11 sacks, ranked 1st at his position in total QB pressures (41 of his 545 passing snaps), and added flare with an interception and fumble recovery for TD, not to mention he was the first ever rookie defensive tackle to be tagged All-Pro.
In 2011, Suh did not make the All-Pro team. He didn't even make the Pro Bowl. Instead he was voted the dirtiest player in the NFL by his peers, was criticized for his lack of splash plays, and his once advocate, Warren Sapp, went as far as to blame his offseason shoulder surgery for his "lack of production."
But what exactly happened to the House of Spears and his production? Did he indeed lose strength? Lose his competitive edge? Did he spend too much time driving cars in Europe? Or is the popular perception that Suh is struggling all in our heads? Let's let the numbers speak before we do.
Ndamukong vs. The Run
In the 2011 season, Suh ranked 29th of all defensive tackles in stopping the run. Specifically, a "stop" according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) is a "loss" for the offense. To put this in perspective, Suh made a stop on 5.9% of his 254 run snaps - a total of 15 run stops. By comparison, Suh made a stop on 7.7% of his run snaps in 2010 - a total of 28 stops.
Making a stop isn't the whole story. Tackling a running back for a 1 or 2 yard gain goes a long way in getting off the field on third down. Suh made 20 total tackles during his 254 run snaps in 2011 (7.8% of run snaps), compared with 31 tackles during his 362 run snaps in 2010 (8.5% of run snaps).
Finally, there is nothing more frustrating as a player (or fan) than to have the opportunity to make a play and miss the tackle. Suh missed 2 tackles on his run snaps in 2011, compared to a near flawless rookie year of 1 missed tackle.
In conclusion, Suh's stops (a loss for the offense) went down by 1.8% in 2011, and the percentage of run snaps during which he made a tackle went down by a mere 0.8%.
Ndamukong vs. The Pass
To evaluate a pass rusher, PFF uses a "pass rushing productivity (PRP)" score based on the percentage of pass snaps a defensive tackle hurries, hits, or sacks the opposing QB relative to how many times they rush the passer. Suh's 2010 PRP was 6.2. His 2011 PRP was 6.0. That means in the 2011 regular season, Suh hurried, hit, or sacked the opposing QB during a passing play on 7.7% of his pass snaps (35 of his 451 pass snaps), a slight increase from 7.5% in 2010 (41 of his 545 pass snaps). An increase in QB pressures does not merit the criticism Suh is receiving, so it begs further examination.
Where Suh takes the majority of the heat is in his lack of splash plays. For example, a play that warrants Suh mimicking Rodger's discount double check after a sack. To the casual fan it seemed as if these plays disappeared from Suh's 2011 repertoire, and in fact they did go down. Suh's sack total dropped from 11 in 2010 to just 4 in 2011. His QB hits were also reduced from 6 in 2010 to 4 in 2011, but his QB hurries actually went up from 24 to 27, despite playing in 94 fewer pass snaps.
By the numbers, Suh's sophomore year was quite comparable to his All-Pro rookie season, yet he has no awards to show for it. While his sack total and splash plays did decrease, he was still able to get to the QB on 7.7% of his pass snaps, a 0.2% increase from his rookie campaign. And despite the Lions' mantra of stopping the run on the way to pass, he was comparable to Minnesota's Pro-Bowler Kevin Williams in both tackles and stops.
Furthermore, none of the above statistics account for drawing double teams or clogging up a RB's first option. But what we can take away from these stats is that Suh's strengths correlate with his weaknesses. His tenacity, ability to overpower, and yearning to create havoc on opposing QBs are what make him an elite pass rushing DT and an average run stopper. The question moving forward for Ndamukong is whether he can adapt to the double teams and maintain his pass rushing skills without making Lions fans cringe when he overcommits and falls right into the trap.