Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh made some great plays on Sunday against the Colts, sacking Andrew Luck once, hitting Luck as he was passing five times, and tackling Colts running backs behind the line of scrimmage twice. But he’s taking some criticism for not stepping up when the Colts scored the winning touchdown on the game’s final play.
An unnamed member of the Lions’ coaching staff told Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports that Suh left his rush lane on the Colts’ winning touchdown, giving Luck space to step up out of the pocket and find receiver Donnie Avery open for the score.
“It’s Football 101. Don’t let the quarterback get out of the pocket,” the anonymous coach said. “[Zone] coverage, only a touchdown can beat you, make the [quarterback] throw from the pocket, get in his face. But don’t, under any circumstances, give the quarterback a chance to escape and create. That’s where the defense breaks down.”
Without knowing the Lions’ defensive call on the play, it’s impossible to know whether Suh did his assignment correctly or not. But looking at the play (as I just did several times, using both the TV angles and the all-22 coaches’ tape), it’s hard to see how anyone could blame Suh for the Colts’ touchdown. The Lions rushed with four defensive linemen and dropped seven into coverage, while the Colts had five offensive linemen blocking for Luck and five receivers running routes. Of the Lions’ four defensive linemen, Suh was the only one who got double teamed, and yet Suh was the one who got the closest to Luck of any of them. In coverage, the Lions had seven to cover five, and yet Avery was able to get wide open.
In other words, the numbers for blaming Suh don’t add up: When a defensive tackle is getting doubled, someone else on the line needs to step up and beat his one-on-one block, and it’s not Suh’s fault that the Lions’ other three defensive linemen failed to do that. And when the defense has more players dropping into coverage than the offense has running pass patterns, it’s a breakdown in coverage if one of the receivers gets wide open. That breakdown is certainly not Suh’s fault.
Suh gets a lot of criticism, and a lot of it is deserved. But blaming Suh for the Lions’ loss on Sunday feels like piling on.