Would you give a nose tackle, any nose tackle, $114 million over six years? Stop laughing and answer the damn question.
OK, let's lower the number by half. Is there any nose tackle on earth who you would pay $57 million over over six years?
I can't think of a nose tackle in the history of the NFL who I would pay that much money to in their prime, real talk. Defensive tackles that can sack the quarterback are rare. Run-stopping defensive tackles, no offense to run-stopping defensive tackles, are a dime a dozen.
The $57 million over six years for a nose tackle scenario is essentially what the Dolphins are doing with Ndamukong Suh right now.
Let me explain.
For pretty much his entire career with the Lions, Suh lined up primarily on the left side (from the defense's perspective) of the opposing center at defensive tackle. He could be in the B gap between the right guard and right tackle as a three technique or in the A gap between the center and right guard as a nose tackle, depending upon the strength call of the defense. But he was almost always on that left side.
Every once in a while he might line up somewhere else, like at defensive end or as a defensive tackle on the other side of the center, usually on passing downs, but nine times out of 10 you would find him at left defensive tackle on early downs and distances. (I believe he lined up almost exclusively at left defensive tackle his final year at Nebraska, if my memory of his film is correct).
Therefore it was not unreasonable to believe that the Dolphins would also use him as the left defensive tackle in their 4-3 scheme. And they have. If you are looking for Suh on film, it's a safe bet where you will find him. But the Dolphins aren't getting the same kind of results that the Lions did by keeping Suh in the same spot. It's not only hindering Suh, but the defense as a whole in some respects. It's finally time for a defensive coordinator to have the common damn sense to move Suh around as a true three technique to maximize his production and help get things turned around for a team in turmoil.
It would be nice if they could get that done, like, now.
Teams have gotten hip to Suh lining up in the same spot most of the time now and have responded accordingly. I couldn't believe how many times the Jets lined up on offense Sunday with a tight end to the left of their formations (as the offense looks at it).
It bugged me so much that I went back and watched the all-22 and made to note all the times, aside from third-and-long, the Jets lined up with a "stud" tight end (lined up at the end of the line, on the line of scrimmage beside one of the offensive tackles) and which side they lined up on. I almost couldn't believe it when I tallied it all up and discovered that they put the tight end on the left an identical number of times (19) as they put him to the right. I went back a couple of weeks and saw that Jacksonville went with the tight end to their left against Miami when they wanted to run the ball.
You rarely see that because most offenses are "right-handed" so to speak, lining up with the strength of the formation the same as their quarterback's throwing hand. Most NFL quarterbacks are right-handed, so you expect to see the tight end to their right much more than to the left, if for no other reason than to make things look the same on play-action while maintaining the ability of the quarterback get the ball out of his hand quickly.
So why might the Jets have lined up with the tight end to the left so many times? I imagine at least some of it had to do with them wanting the Dolphins to declare the strong side of their defense away from Suh. That would dictate that he lined up in the A gap at nose tackle rather than the B gap at three technique. I mean, it definitely was one helluva coincidence that he lined up at nose tackle on the same plays noted in the previous paragraph, you guessed it, a cool 19 times.
First quarter, 1-10-NYJ 27 (12:14): Fitzpatrick pass deep left to Marshall pushed ob at MIA 15 for 58 yards:
Either way that is a lot of nose tackle for the $100-plus million man to be playing, dontcha think?
And that's not even counting how many times he lined up at nose tackle when there were no tight ends or more than one tight end in the formation. Dis tew much.
It kind of made sense to do it when he was in Detroit because the Lions had both Nick Fairley as well as C.J. Mosley to play right defensive tackle. Those guys could hold up as nose tackle and rush the passer when they were the three technique. No matter which one of those three guys ended up in the B gap you could be sure that they would be getting upfield and creating havoc.
In Miami, however, Suh is lining up next to Earl Mitchell most of the time. While Mitchell is a good football player, he also only has 5.5 career sacks in his five-year career to date. Is Mitchell OK as the three technique at times? Sure. But right now the Dolphins need whoever is at three technique to be disruptive, and Mitchell is not really that, especially when it comes to rushing the passer.
With Suh and the Dolphins defense off to a slow start, the quickest way to get things turned around is to make Suh a true three technique and have him line up as a B gap rusher no matter which side he needs to line up on. That will give him the opportunity to be a lot more disruptive from play to play. It will also make it harder for opposing offenses to game plan for where he will be on any given play.
A Ndamukong Suh who is getting upfield and blowing shit up in the B gap is a much more preferable sight to see than the average performances we have gotten from him so far this season.
Make no mistake, Suh has been average at best so far. This isn't one of those situations where the stats, or in this case lack of stats, are hiding a player's real production. The truth is there are a lot of guys playing defensive tackle on Sundays in the NFL this season with better film than Suh through four games. Lots.
None of 'em have a bigger bank account though, and like or not, that actually matters in this case. If you wouldn't pay a nose tackle all that money, then the guy you did pay a mint to anchor the interior of your defensive line shouldn't be playing nose tackle half the damn time either. It just doesn't make sense.
What happened to the bull rush?
Oh, one more thing. I watched the all-22 on three of the Dolphins' first four games and there was something missing when I watched Suh. I just couldn't put my finger on it. He wasn't playing well, that was obvious, but there was something about him that just looked ... off. It wasn't until I had finished the film and started going over it in my head that it hit me: Even when he was lined up as a three technique in obvious passing situations, his bull rush hasn't been nearly as effective this year as it has been in years past.
Suh used to look like a damn bulldozer just running over offensive linemen on the way to the quarterback. Or, more accurately, he used to consistently drive blockers back into their quarterback's laps and apply pressure that way all game. I wouldn't say he has necessarily been getting handled this year, but I will say that the awesome push we are used to seeing from Suh just isn't there. At least not on any kind of consistent basis.
I don't know why that is, quite honestly. Hell, he looks just as strong as ever when he is playing the run. However, nobody seems to fear his bull rush anymore and he is getting stoned a lot at the line of scrimmage.
That is bad news for a guy who never seemed to think it was important to develop any finesse moves in his first five years in the league. Suh has relied on his bull rush for so long, I'm not even sure what he is going to do if he can't get that part of his game going soon.
I'm pointing this out to say that even if the Dolphins take my advice and start moving Suh around more, it may not make much of a difference when it comes to his pass-rush production. I do think he will get more one-on-one opportunities in that scenario, so maybe he can get his mojo back quickly if that's the case.
I always said that when Suh's bull rush stopped being successful that he would struggle to get pressure on the quarterback the rest of his career. I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.
What is clear is that something has to be done to change the Dolphins' fortunes this season. Cuz firing the head coach is not going to fix everything. The Dolphins need to get more out of Suh, and for what they are paying they should reasonably expect more out of him. Them's the breaks when you back up the Brinks truck and get paid. It goes with the territory. Moving Suh around more will give him an opportunity to get back to making big plays at a much higher rate. That, in turn, should help the defense overall.
It may be a little out of his comfort level, but hell, he lined up at right defensive end on Sunday a couple of times, so I think he will be able to figure it out.
I'll tell you this much, something better change and soon because this weak-ass film Suh is putting out right now has him on the road to getting him featured prominently in a future NFL Network episode of "Biggest Busts Ever."
I'm just saying what other folks are thinking.
* * *
SB Nation presents: Previewing the top games of Week 5