Perception of ‘evil’ Lions doesn’t match reality


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — For a 5-2 football team, there sure are a lot of critics trying to pick the Lions apart.

Even the league’s own website got into the fray. They have billed the Lions game Sunday against the Broncos as Good vs. Evil — the good being Tim Tebow and the bad being Ndamukong Suh.

“I don’t know if that’s appropriate,” coach Jim Schwartz said.

It’s not appropriate, or accurate. But don’t think it won’t be used as a motivator this week. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham posted the headline and artwork from the NFL.com piece in the defensive meeting room.

“Yeah, I guess evil’s coming to town,” middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “The media likes to portray us as a dirty team, but that’s not the way we play. We’re just physical, we play hard and we hold everybody accountable.”

The critics aren’t letting the facts get in their way. Case in point — the accusations made by two Falcons players last week. No matter how much evidence is compiled — video and audio — that Suh and Cliff Avril were several yards away from fallen Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and didn’t kick him or taunt him, the perception they did won’t go away.

Lions myths are mounting by the week. It might be a good time to debunk a few of them.

Myth : Suh is going through a sophomore slump and he isn’t having the kind of impact he had last season.

Sports Illustrated poured gas on this one, naming Suh to their midseason all-underachieving team. It doesn’t pay to get too upset with these types of lists. Their intent is to stir debate.

But there is a growing perception that Suh is somehow not impacting games like he did last season.

“He is playing some kind of football and if anybody wants to deny that, they don’t know what they’re talking about, and probably never will,” Cunningham said. “He’s playing outstanding football.”

Critics point to his three sacks and 22 tackles as evidence that his impact is less. Certainly they are off his 10-sack, 66-tackle pace last season. But for one, those numbers don’t begin to measure his impact; and two, to expect him to duplicate or surpass 10 sacks is unrealistic.

“You can’t measure everything on a statistic like a sack, because I can take each stat that you have and turn it upside down for you,” Cunningham said. “He’s been very productive, very explosive. He’s played more physical this year than he did last year.”

Here’s a mini-myth: The Lions sack numbers are down. Really? They have 17 as a team, four behind the league leaders.

Schwartz just shook his head at the SI jab at Suh.

“He’s an impact player,” he said. “Everybody has a plan for him. Everybody tries to take him out. We are very satisfied with his production. He plays hard and he affects the game. We will worry about what our expectations and evaluations are, not those from people outside this building.”

Myth : The Lions can’t stop the run.

This one is a little trickier to defend. The Lions do rank 29th against the run, allowing 129.4 per game.

They have also allowed three consecutive 100-plus games — Atlanta’s Michael Turner (122), San Francisco’s Frank Gore (141) and Chicago’s Matt Forte (116).

“According to a lot of people, we can’t stop the run,” Tulloch said. “That is false. We’ve had some lapses lately but we are back in tune to what we need to do.”

What would be a more accurate criticism is the Lions have given up too many big plays in the run game.

Turner broke a 50-yarder. Gore accumulated 102 of his 141 yards in two carries.

There have been some major breakdowns in the back end — either at outside linebacker or safety.

But to say their run defense is bad seems harsh.

“That’s everybody else’s opinion,” Suh said. “I personally don’t think you can line up and run the ball on us all day. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on. We’ve let out some big runs, which makes it look a lot worse than it really is.

“But perception is reality some times.”

Here’s a reality: Nine times the Lions have stoned a third-and-1 or a fourth-and-1 play. Suh stopped a third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 back-to-back against the Bears.

They stopped a fourth-and-1 at the goal line in Dallas, a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter in Minnesota, a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs, and a huge fourth-and-1 from their 11 in the fourth quarter at Tampa.

They can stop the run.

Myth : Matthew Stafford struggles to throw accurately on underneath routes.

This one came out of the blue and from a surprising critic — former quarterback Kurt Warner. He told NFL Network the reason the Lions’ offense struggled the last two weeks was Stafford’s inability to connect on those short passes in front of the linebackers.

A quick review of the numbers shows that Stafford has completed 73.5 percent of his throws behind the line of scrimmage (36 for 49 for 204 yards) and 67.4 percent of his throws from 1 to 10 yards (91-for-135, 805 yards).

Combine those and he’s hitting 69 percent of his underneath routes with five of his 16 touchdowns and two of his four interceptions.

It’s not Tom Brady-like by any measure, but it’s hardly a red flag. If Warner or anybody else wants to nit-pick at the sixth-best quarterback in the NFL, he could have pointed out his struggles with passes in the 21- to 30-yard range.

He’s hit only 4 of 16 there.

Stafford has struggled the last two weeks, no question. But to single out his accuracy on underneath routes seems random — just like a lot of the attempts to deconstruct the Lions’ 5-2 start.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

John Niyo: Lions’ Ndamukong Suh goes on defense to protect reputation


John Niyo

Detroit Ndamukong Suh had a lot to say Monday.

But nothing said it better than this.

“If I’m not gonna protect myself,” the Lions all-Pro defensive tackle mused, “then nobody else is going to.”

That, as much as any statement — alleged or otherwise, heard or unspoken — might explain what he’s thinking these days, both on and off the field.

Because he’s being asked to wage a war on both fronts, no matter how understandably reluctant he is to admit it. When he’s not fighting opponents double teams in the trenches — and the cheap shots that inevitably come with them — he finds himself fighting, or at least being asked to fight, a perception that he’s a dirty player, fueled by postgame comments from the Falcons after a 23-16 loss at Ford Field.

Suh and teammate Cliff Avril were accused by Falcons players of taunting and trash-talking on the field when Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan went down what initially looked to be a serious leg injury in the game. (Ryan did return to the game the next series.)

Receiver Roddy White told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he “lost a whole lot of respect for” both players for “the (expletive) they were doing when Matt got hurt.”

The newspaper quoted White as saying Avril “was kicking (Ryan’s) feet saying, ‘Get him off the field.'”

Falcons center Todd McClure said Suh was saying, “‘Get the cart’ and several other things that I can’t repeat.”

Avril disputed those comments via Twitter on Sunday night, while Suh, who normally doesn’t address the media until Wednesday each week, angrily addressed them Monday.

“They’re gonna say what they want to say,” Suh said, adding “it’s he-said, she-said” as he quickly dismissed the suggestion — one that apparently was lost in translation by the initial report — that Avril actually kicked Ryan while he was down.

The video clearly shows he didn’t. (Avril and Suh are barely in the picture before and after Ryan goes down in a heap.)

And besides, as Suh points out, “I know for a fact, if Cliff — or anybody, for that matter — kicked an opposing quarterback, I’m sure there would’ve been a riot.”

“If that would’ve happened to Matt Stafford and he was on the ground and somebody kicked him,” Suh said, “I guarantee you all hell would’ve broke loose.”

Instead, we’re left with this, whatever the heck it is.

He said, he said

The Lions lost. The Falcons won. Atlanta players accused Detroit of ugly behavior, prompting the Lions to fire back with similar accusations. And we in the media become a ping-pong ball of sorts.

He said, she said? It’s more like, “Did you hear what they said about what you said?” (While conveniently ignoring the fact the hidden soundtrack of an NFL game would make Howard Stern cringe.)

“There was no comments — at all,” Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “I was there when he went down. … We waved for the trainers to come get Matt. We never once made a threat like that to him at all.

“It’s absurd that they would even mention that.”

White, though, wasn’t backing down Monday as he clarified his remarks in an interview with the NFL Network.

“We didn’t say (Avril) kicked Matt,” White said. “We said one of the guys — I don’t know if it was 92 (Avril) or 93 (Kyle Vanden Bosch), one of the defensive ends — came over and he was making kicking gestures, like, ‘Get him out of here.’ And I know Suh said what he said. He was like, ‘Go get the cart for him. Get him out of here.’ He knows he said that.”

Suh was asked about what he said or didn’t say Monday, and he responded, “I’m not even near their quarterback, so how am I going to trash-talk somebody that has a medical staff that’s all around him?”

But he didn’t stop there, as Suh pointed out it wasn’t the Lions who made contact with Ryan on the play. It was his own lineman, Will Svitek, who stepped on Ryan’s ankle while trying to block the Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson.

“If you look at it, to me, it’s karma,” Suh said, noting the Falcons own well-cultivated reputation for dirty play on the offensive line. “For all the bad stuff they’ve done in the past, their offensive lineman hurt their own quarterback. So I’ll leave it at that.”

White responded, “We’re not gonna go back and forth about ‘he-said, she-said,'” before doing just that, adding, “And then he’s gonna say it’s karma for what we’ve done in the past? And then their quarterback (Matthew Stafford) gets hurt on the last play of the game.”

Reputation is sticking

Back to you, Mr. Suh, who was asked if he was hurt personally by the accusations.

“Do I need Rodney White’s respect?” Suh said, before answering himself. “No. I’ll leave it at that.”

At that point, he walked away, flanked by a Lions spokesman.

Now, I have no idea whether Suh purposely mispronounced White’s name or not as a parting gesture — I don’t think he did — or whether Suh knows where the Pistons former first-round pick is now. (Last I heard, he was hooping it up in South Korea.)

But as Suh himself rather bluntly reminded us Monday, we really don’t know him at all.

“Nobody’s gonna be able to really understand who I am, except for very few,” Suh said.

He went on to explain that’s because some people “won’t take the time” to, as he put it, “see the type of person I am.” Then, in the next breath, he admitted that’s because “they can’t get close enough to me. I won’t let people get close to me.”

So Suh me, but I don’t know how we’re going to solve that riddle if that’s the way he’s going to play this game.

Still, what I do know about Suh is that he’s smart, he’s focused, he’s determined and he’s potentially as dominant a player as we’ve ever seen at his position. And while it’d be foolish to think this talk will change his game — “Have you seen me stop playing? Not at all. It’s not gonna affect me,” he said — it’d be a shame if that talent got overshadowed by talk of dirty play, much as it has been with Pittsburgh’s James Harrison.

Talk is cheap. But reputations are invaluable.

john.niyo@detnews.com

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