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Cowboys vs. Lions: Know Your Enemy, Spotlight On Ndamukong Suh

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An All-22 breakdown of Ndamukong Suh.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

According to Pro Football Focus, Suh's best game of this season came in week 10 against Miami. In order to see what makes Suh so dangerous, as well as to see how Dallas might neutralize him, I studied the All-22 tape to see what exactly Suh does on the field.

Against the Run:

Dallas' offense is predicated on the running game. How does Suh affect the run, and how should Dallas counter him? Let's examine three running plays the Dolphins used against Suh and Detroit's strong run defense.

Play 1:

suh 1-1

Here we see the Lions in a traditional 4-3 defense with Suh playing the 3-technique.

Suh 1-2

The Dolphins leave Suh unblocked. The thought is to use Suh's aggressiveness against him; the Dolphins want Suh to run upfield then run underneath him.

suh 1-3

This is actually a pretty good play design. The center gets knocked back some by the other DT, which disrupts the running back some, but they have the running lane they want. Unfortunately Suh is athletic enough that he has turned and begun chasing down the RB. Suh shows his incredible athleticism, and catches the RB from behind for a loss.

Play 2:

Suh 9-1

This play occurs on third and long. Suh is again playing the 3-technique. Check out the DE splits; this is something that just popped off the tape watching the Lions. They often change up their splits and formations. This formation is similar to the "Nascar" package, except the Lions are keeping a DT at 1-tech.

Suh 9-2

Miami tries to execute a fairly standard inside run. Suh (yellow circle) is double teamed by the guard and center, the backside guard blocks the other DT, and the backside tackle takes on the backside LB. The running back is using the backside guards hip as his marker.

Suh 9-3

The double team has stonewalled Suh (yellow circle) leaving the center free to attack the second level. But check out the red circle; the backside DT has beaten the guard and the backside DE was quick enough to chase the play down. Miami picked up a few yards, but that quickness along the defensive line is one of the Lions biggest strengths.

Play 3:

suh 10-1

A similar look by the Dolphins to the play above, and a similar response by the Lions. A few things to note; Suh is playing the 1-tech, and even stranger, he's playing 1-tech on the weak side. The Lions really do throw a ton of different defensive fronts out there.

Suh 10-4

So this is a really interesting play. It looks like a standard inside run. The Lions are again doubling Suh (yellow circle) with the guard and center, but they are also doubling the backside DT with the backside guard and tackle. This leaves the two closest linebackers completely unblocked, with an easy read on the play (red circles). But note the backside WR who is running down the line of scrimmage (blue circle).

Suh 10-5

Again Suh is taken completely out of the play by the double team. We can see that there is a really nice lane for the running back, but the linebackers are right there at the end of it. Not much different here than the picture above, but check out the nasty blow Ezekiel Ansah gives the Dolphins TE (yellow arrow).

Suh 10-6

Ah, now the play makes sense. The Dolphins are running a counter where the running back fakes the inside run before bouncing outside. Suh has been taken out of the play (yellow circle). Meanwhile the backside guard has peeled off his double team and is moving to block a linebacker, and the wide receiver we saw coming down the line has sealed the edge and is providing a marker for the running back. Really nice play by the Dolphins.

Pass Rushing:

This is where Suh has made his name; as probably the best pass-rushing defensive tackle since Warren Sapp. Let's look at what he did against the Dolphins.

Play 1:

suh 2-1

This is the second play of the game. The Lions have come out in a simple 4-3 with Suh playing the 3-technique.

suh 2-2

It looks like the guard has gotten a good initial punch on Suh, as Suh is rocked back. The tackle has his arms extended, a good base; it looks like a good block.

suh 2-3

I'll be honest, I'm not sure what Suh does here. I rewatched this play at least five times, but I can't tell if Suh uses a swim move, a shove, or just his quickness to get around the guard. It happens too fast. Regardless Suh gets off the initial punch, the guard overextends and Suh is by him in a flash.

Suh 2-5

Which leads to this. Poor Ryan Tannehill never has a chance. Also notice that there is pressure coming off the edge. This is something that separates good pass rushes from average ones. If Suh doesn't get pressure up the middle then Ryan Tannehill can step up in the pocket and avoid the edge rush. If there's no edge rush then Tannehill has a chance to avoid Suh up the middle. Because the Lions can generate pressure from multiple locations they increase the chances that those pressures and hurries turn into sacks.

Play 2:

suh 11-1

Here we have Suh lined up as the 1-tech.

suh outside

Suh beats his man with a quick outside move. This was an interesting play. It looks like the guard was really slow getting out of his stance (all the other OL are up). What's interesting is this is the only time I noticed Suh going to the outside besides DL stunts. He loves gapping inside and using his speed to penetrate the A-gap.

Play 3:

Suh 15-1

Again we see the Suh lined up as the 1-tech. According to ESPN's depth charts Suh is officially the LDT, which is nominally the 1-tech. So the Lions use him a lot like we used "the Rat"; as a penetrating 1-tech who can also line up as the 3-tech.

suh 14-2

I mentioned earlier that Suh loves to crash inside. Here we see him cross both the guard and center to attack the centers inside shoulder. This might be a stunt as the other DT has crashed inside as well.

14-3

Something I noticed about Suh in this game; he rarely uses power to beat his man. Not once did I see a pure bull-rush from Suh where he just walks his man back. Here he's attacked the center's inside shoulder and has caused the center to turn perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, never a good thing for an offensive lineman.

suh 14-4

Suh has beaten his block and has a clear path to the QB. But he performs a cardinal sin for a defensive lineman; he leaves his feet, falling for Tannehill's pump fake.

suh 14-5

Tannehill attempts to run underneath Suh after getting him into the air. But Suh again displays his athleticism, recovering from his leap and chasing down the QB.

Suh 14-6

Somehow Tannehill manages to get away and picks up a huge chunk of yardage, but Suh really impressed me on this play. Notice something here though; there are no Lions defenders in the picture besides Suh. Where did they go? I think that the Lions may have a similar tendency that the 'Boys did with Ware; the other defenders believe he will make the play and start to slack off.

Play 4:

12-1

This is one of the few times that the Dolphins tried to double team Suh in pass protection.

suh 12-2

Suh tries to bounce outside the double team, but the guard does a good job of staying with him, and you can see the center shadowing Suh as well.

Suh 12-3

When Suh can't get around the outside he tries to come back in. He does manage to get past the guard, but the center is right there to pick him up.

Suh 12-4

Let me rephrase that. The center literally picks Suh up in as vicious a block as I've ever seen.

Suh 12-5

And proceeds to plant Suh in the ground. The last thing I thought I would see in this game was Suh being physically dominated by another player.

Moving Around:

We've seen the Lions use Suh at the 1- and 3-tech positions. But that's not all they do with him. As mentioned above the Lions use a wide variety of line formations and splits to confuse the offense and disrupt blocking schemes.

Play 1:

suh DE-1

This is a really interesting play. There is no defensive tackle, and Suh has lined up outside of the defensive end.

suh DE-2

The Lions run a stunt with Suh (yellow circle) crashing in and the DE (red arrow) looping around.

Play 2:

suh 13-1

And here we see Suh lined up as a pure 0-tech, lined up directly on top of the center. Notice that the Lions actually have five players lined up on the line here.

suh 13-2

The Lions run a stunt. The LDT crashes in, and Suh has stepped back to loop behind the crashing DT.

suh 13-3

And Suh get's locked up. Again, I was really surprised by the lack of power in Suh's game, because I remember that being one of his biggest strengths in college. But in this game if he didn't beat you with speed or technique, he was done.

The Takeaways:

  • Is Suh a "finesse" player? I know he has a reputation for being dirty, but I was surprised by his lack of power in this game. He couldn't beat double teams, and if an offensive lineman played with good technique they could generally block Suh one on one.
  • Still, Suh is incredibly fast. I was amazed by how athletic he is. He's fast off the snap, but he is able to maintain that quickness on the move when he's on a stunt.
  • In the run game you have to run at Suh. That sounds counter-intuitive, but Suh is so quick on the backside he can run down plays from behind. He can be moved though with a double team. One thing that will give us problems is that we like to pull our guards; Suh is quick enough to "follow through" the vacated hole and chase the play down from behind.
  • What makes the Lions front seven so scary is how fast they are. Every player on the line and the linebackers can flat out move to the ball. I don't think misdirection plays are going to work; the Lions defense is too fast and disciplined.
  • The Lions substituted defensive lineman constantly against Miami. It's going to be hard to "wear them down".

So what this mean is in the run game Dallas is going to have to be patient. We'll be able to gain yards, but don't expect a lot of five or six yard pick ups. The run game is going to have to grind out the yards. I think Ronald Leary is physically able to handle Suh, but he will have to play with great technique. I actually favor Martin when Suh lines up on his side.

One thing that Miami did in this game that worked well were quick screens to the wide receivers. It neutralized the speed of the front seven and forced Detroits corners to tackle. I could see Dallas using both Dez and Cole Beasley in WR screens to great effect.

Well there you go BTB. What are your thoughts? Will Suh be a thorn in the Cowboys side or do we match up well against the Lion's defense?