There’s no question that on paper, the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line is the best unit in the league. However, on-paper talent is wildly different than on-field performance, and the difference should be the grain of salt when we talk about DT Ndamukong Suh.
No one is questioning Suh’s talent. Even at 31, Suh’s intensity and strength is still in peak condition and there’s little evidence to suggest he’s slowing down.
When Suh came into the league in 2010, he racked up 10 sacks and 48 tackles, which is an impressive season even for a veteran, let alone a rookie. But Suh has not reached that sack total since. The closest he got to a double-digit season was in 2014—his final season in Detroit—when he recorded 8.5 sacks. He has not reached more than six since then.
However, his value to the Rams’ is not what statistical numbers he can provide, but what opportunities he can provide for his LA teammates.
All eyes on me
If all we cared about were statistics, then the Rams could have signed anyone else at defensive tackle for a much lower price like former Miami Dolphins’ teammate Andre Branch who had the same number of sacks Suh had in 2017 (4.5).
The rhetoric surrounding Suh after he was cut from Miami seemed to be that he never really lived up to the massive contract the Dolphins gave him. But another way of looking at it is the Dolphins failed to capitalize on Suh’s presence on the line.
Through the first eight games of the 2017 season, Suh attracted 68 double-teams (8.5 per-contest). This gave the Dolphins mismatches in the running game, and 2017 saw the running game improve compared to the previous two seasons.
In 2015 and 2016, however, the Dolphins failed to capitalize on the mismatches Suh’s double-teams created and the run-defense surrendered the fifth and third-most yards-per-game, respectively.
Near immovable object
Despite Suh’s size and strength, there were times when the double-teams got the better of him in 2017 and moved him out of the way to create a lane for running backs.
Yet, there were plenty of times when Suh refused to be uprooted from his position, which either blocked the running lane and redirected the runner, or welcomed the runner to his warm and violent embrace.
On this play against the Oakland Raiders, the line is putting a veer block and Suh appeared to be out of the play, opening a hole for the running back.
Yet, Suh was able to spin move back inside to make the tackle on the runner.
In Week 2, Suh had 4 double-teams. In Week 3, he had 7 with 10 minutes left in the first half. Watch him just stand up the lineman and make a 1-arm tackle. pic.twitter.com/haARx3xnB5— Tim Godfrey (@MrTimGodfrey) March 30, 2018
Window of opportunity
Say what you want about the contract the Dolphins gave Suh. No one can knock what they were trying to accomplish. With DE Cameron Wake and DE Olivier Vernon, the Dolphins had an impressive defensive line on paper with Suh in tow.
Miami’s mistake was not taking advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime in the lifetime of the opportunity. Suh attracted double-teams in both the run and the pass, but the Dolphins could not execute on the advantage. After Wake’s 2015 injury, he still resumed his usual double-digit sack output, and the rest of the defense resumed it’s lackluster pass-rush.
The Dolphins finished near the bottom of the league in sacks in each season Suh was in the teal and orange.
L.A.’s best supporting actor
Opposing offenses will have to pick their poison in 2018. If they want to double-team DT Aaron Donald, Suh will likely kill them on the outside, and if they commit two to Suh, Donald will be the same disruptive force he’s always been.
If the season started today, I would imagine Suh lines up at DE on nearly all of his snaps. This could allow him to see an increase in one-on-one match-ups, unless opposing offenses want to put a tight end on the end of the line every snap.
The run-game gave the Rams’ defense trouble throughout 2017. With Suh on the line, it could be the Rams’ giving opposing rushers nightmares all season.