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FAB 1. Suh Spearheads Bucs’ Stellar Run Defense

Ndamukong Suh’s stat line isn’t pretty.

Through four games, the Bucs’ 30-year old defensive tackle has seven tackles, one tackle for loss, three quarterback hits and no sacks.

Outside of a team-high two fumble recoveries, including a 37-yard scoop-and-score against his former team, the Los Angeles Rams, on Sunday, Suh doesn’t look like he’s coming close to earning his $9.25 million salary this season as Gerald McCoy’s replacement up front.

Until you notice that the Bucs run defense, which was ranked 24th last year while surrendering 123.9 yards per game, is currently ranked first in the league and is allowing just 59.2 yards per game. That’s where Suh comes in to play.

Outside of his 37-yard touchdown in L.A., there isn’t much to Suh’s game that is pretty.

Instead, it’s gritty and often goes unnoticed.

“There is a lot of stuff that Suh does that doesn’t end up on a stats sheet,” Bucs inside linebacker Lavonte David said. “He accounts for multiple blockers and allow myself and guys on the outside to run free and make plays against the run or get sacks. A lot of things he does people have to account for. His name – Ndamukong Suh – obviously means you have to account for him. He can dominate a game and not really show up on the stat sheet. His leadership and the role he plays upfront is real good for us. Those guys need a leader who is savvy, who knows the game and who is a seasoned vet.

“His presence is a big plus. He’s a no-nonsense guy. When we’re going through drills in practice he’ll say things like, ‘Don’t let anybody run through this defense.’ And he means it. Our mentality started in practice a long time ago. When it’s our period and our starting defense is out there in practice, we dominate the period. He helps set the tone. The whole defensive front sets the tone, but Suh makes it a point of emphasis.”

Bucs LB Lavonte David and DT Ndamukong Suh
Bucs LB Lavonte David and DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Things like setting the tone, mentality, momentum, heart and grit aren’t measured on the stat sheet or in analytics, but they are real elements of football and within football players, especially those that operate in the trenches.

“The defensive line, and Suh specifically, have done a phenomenal job of knocking the line of scrimmage back, and that’s an emphasis we have as an offensive line, right? To move the line of scrimmage forward and get yards,” Bucs left guard Ali Marpet said. “Teams are struggling to do that against us because of Suh and the rest of our defensive line. That doesn’t show up on the stats sheet, but has tremendous value.”

There were several reasons why the Bucs wanted to swap Suh for McCoy, who had six Pro Bowl berths in nine years in Tampa Bay, this offseason. The first was that Suh had more experience in a 3-4 defense and was deemed to be a better fit for Todd Bowles’ scheme. The second reason was that Suh was a better run-stopper and so far that’s been where his value is. But the final reason is that Suh brought a level of toughness and aggressiveness that McCoy lacked, according to the front office and coaches.

With a young, emerging player like nose tackle Vita Vea, who was the team’s first-round pick in 2018, needing some coaxing to become more aggressive from general manager Jason Licht midway through his rookie season, the Bucs thought having an aggressive player like Suh on the team would help show Vea the way.

“I’ve learned a lot from watching him play,” Vea said of Suh. “He’s all about his business. He’s a real professional and I’ve learned a lot from him on and off the field. He gets a lot of double teams for us. He does a lot of the dirty work and I get a lot of the one-on-ones because of him. Obviously they are going to double Suh before they double me.

Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Getty Images

“A player like that to show up like he did last week – he had nothing to prove because he already has his resume – it was great to see. Suh’s scored before, so it was nothing new to him, but it was exciting for me to see him score and seal the game. The fact he did it against his old team was really cool.”

Vea isn’t the only young Bucs defensive lineman that is benefitting from the addition of Suh to Tampa Bay’s roster. Rakeem “Nacho” Nunez-Roches had a remarkable preseason with two sacks and says that Suh has helped him ratchet up his own nastiness.

“That’s one of his key characteristics – he’s a nasty guy,” Nunez-Roches said. “The one thing I always compliment Ndamukong on is that he’s efficient. His presence out there and his knowledge of the game, that’s what makes him so feared. When it’s time to make plays he knows when it’s time to dig deep and come up big. He did that in L.A. for us.”

Suh is known as a nasty player, but he’s only living up to his name. Suh’s first name – Ndamukong – means “house of spears” in the Ngemba of Cameroon, which is where his ancestry is traced to. Suh spearheaded some big plays against the Rams, which was the team he played for last year, just as he has spearheaded Tampa Bay’s run defense this year.

Suh finished with two tackles, two quarterback hits and one big fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Rams, but it was the big, 6-foot-4, 313-pounder chasing Rams speed receiver Brandin Cooks 23 yards downfield after a catch to make the tackle that really stood out to safety Jordan Whitehead.

“He’s a hustle guy and you saw it on that play,” Whitehead said. “And you saw his speed when he picked up that fumble, too. He’s got some speed. All of our guys upfront – Suh, Vita [Vea], Will [Gholston] – do a great job of getting to the ball. Suh doesn’t really say a lot, but he’s that guy that plugs the middle and takes on double teams. He can make plays like he made on Sunday when they count the most. That’s his game. He’s quiet. Then he can make a play that sparks us. He doesn’t get all the credit because he does all the dirty work and takes on two guys a lot of the time.”

Tampa Bay would love to see Suh get to the quarterback and join Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib and Will Gholston as the only Buccaneers to collect sacks so far this year. Perhaps that happens in New Orleans this week where Tampa Bay will be facing backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater rather than injured starter Drew Brees. Saints head coach Sean Payton battled against Suh twice last year, including in the NFC Championship Game.

“He’s at the three-technique position which I think is home [for him] and the position he’s comfortable with because of the isolations he gets,” Payton said. “He’s explosive. He’s smart. He’s a very intelligent player. He can edge you quick and he can win with power. He’s been a great addition for them.”

While McCoy’s smile kept the Bucs’ locker room light and upbeat for years – even during double-digit losing seasons, Suh rarely smiles and is all business. He demands a workman-like approach from all defenders on the practice field with his intense demeanor and it’s showing up on Sunday’s in Tampa Bay’s stellar run defense.

Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“He brings experience and he doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s usually very important and we listen,” said Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. “He brings leadership and all of those things that a 10-year vet would bring. He’s definitely a no-nonsense guy.”

Suh sets the tone and does the dirty work on defense, and as the Bucs’ 2019 season goes along, his stats sheet will continue to fill out.

“A lot of pressure,” said Bucs head coach Bruce Arians when asked what Suh brings to Tampa Bay. “The quarterbacks feel him. He might not be getting home, but he’s occupying a lot of double teams, and when he is one-on-one, he’s getting close. In the run game, he’s just shutting it down.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

30 COMMENTS

  1. I think you’re spot-on withe the defense Scott. “Built to stop the run”. We have really 1 pass rusher, and 4 other guys on the line (Suh, Vea, Nassib and Gholston) typically that have fewer sacks in their career than Barret has through 4 games 🙂

    That’s not a knock – it’s a very interesting strategy to playing defense that I think Bowles is pushing quite well…However (there’s always a “however”)…that means teams are going to pass….and our secondary is abysmal. This should be the flashing red light that warns the GM to get some help….unfortunately our GM is like Homer Simpson at the switch watching the red light flash and commenting on how pretty it looks.

    Anyway, on to RoJo…it’s amazing what a young kid with talent can do if you let him touch the ball more than 30 times in a season.

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    • That same “Homer Simpson GM” is also the same guy who brought in Suh, Nassib, Gholston oh and wait…Shaq Barrett.

      But you have got to be right, huh?

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      • Well, Gholston was brought to Tampa (in the 2013 draft to be specific) by Dominik….so maybe no more needs to be said about your post, and your need to be right, huh.

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        • …and was kept by Licht with a second contract.

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          • the statement was “brought in” by Licht….Gholston was “brought in” by Dom…but if we want to give Licht credit for re-signing guys, then I guess we need to ding for not re-signing guys like Donald Penn who made two pro bowls after Licht got rid of him and is still starting in the league, still rating higher than Donovan Smith (unbelievably!!); like Bradley McDougald who made the pro bowl last year….TBH, the list should really be a long one, but he’s done so poorly bringing guys to town, that there aren’t more good ones who have moved on.

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    • You obviously missed the whole point of the article. Bowles & BA wants you to throw the ball 70 times BA quote “I have never lost to it”. The philosophical belief is when you throw it that much it will force turnovers. The CB’s are on an island the whole game, there job is to make an open field tackle, not necessarily Pass Breakups.

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      • Not sure if your comment Captain was directed at me, but when I said “it’s a very interesting strategy to playing defense that I think Bowles is pushing quite well”, what I meant was,

        it’s a very interesting strategy to playing defense that I think Bowles is pushing quite well….sorry if that was confusing.

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        • I am referring directly toward your comments “our secondary is abysmal” and our GM starring at a “flashing red light”….

          The GM allowed BA & Bowles to draft the CB’s that fit their scheme. Why are you beating up on Licht when we are winning with the new scheme and players?

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          • Not defending what East said, but the Bucs DBs have to start getting better at following #54’s lead and jumping routes now. They do that, and they’ll become a secondary which opposing teams will have to take seriously.

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          • ok – I’m not trying to be a downer. It’s great that we won last weekend, and that we’re now 2-2.

            But any casual observer can see that turning the corner with our franchise, as we’ve been trying to do for the better part of two decades, is not going to happen with the secondary we have. We can get better – indeed we are much better, but we just got torched for 500 yards (by a guy with the 25th best QBR)…we’re 31st in pass defense! On any given Sunday that Jameis doesn’t have the best game of his career (as he did last Sunday) we are in trouble, and that’s not fair to Jameis, the offense, or the run defense.

            Why? Our GM has spent 5 of our last 11 premium picks (round 1 and 2) in his 5-year draft tenure, on the secondary!!!…which is 31st in the league. I’m hard on him, because he has spent a lot of resources – as our supposed expert in this area – and whiffed repeatedly. In fact, the best player to come through our secondary during his tenure, is a guy he decided to let walk….and made the pro bowl last year for Seattle.

            So, if I’m going to jump on the Jason Licht bandwagon, I’m going to need much more in the results department…10 wins, playoffs, some of the guys he’s drafted actually making the pro bowl, a better track record in FA (I know Barrett is great – he is, but I haven’t forgotten Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, Swaggy Baker, Vinny Curry, Robert Ayers, and on and on)….you could take as many swings as Licht has and eventually find a diamond…I need something more consistent to jump on that bandwagon.

            At the moment – I’m leaning much more towards all of those fans that said 2019 was going to be better because of coaching.

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  2. Exactly. Suh brings the attitude McCoy never did. Respect from opponents and teammates. McCoy was soft and a cry baby and that tainted the defense. Always excuses and now its stout. Sunday is a big test!

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  3. I won’t play my greatest hits on why McCoy was so overrated. Suh was always going to be an upgrade over McCoy on the field. This team was always going to have to stop the run first to be successful.

    I’m as happy as a puppy with two peters over the performance of the defense so far, even including secondary play. Fast, physical, and swarming to the ball.

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  4. Good information Scott.

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  5. Our run defense is incredible with those 2 big boys taking up space. Its not even close if you ask me who id rather have, suh or mccoy. It also speaks to how coaching can make a huge difference, although some don’t believe that. Im looking at you naples.
    Amazing when a coach has faith in you what it can do, in the cases of jameis and jones in particular. Barret is just an animal and you cant say enough about this guy. And hes only going to get better once jpp gets back in the thick of it.
    As for the cosching staff, anyone looking at Atlanta and seeing things eerily similar? A crappy run game and a qb that has the most picks in the nfl? Thats koetter in a nut shell and he looks worse by the day. I have a ton of faith in this staff, stack a win this week and we will be in great shape!

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  6. Suh brings an attitude that permeates the defense. Sure he’s past his prime, but there’s no mistaking his impact on the run defense and he looked pretty fast on the scoop fumble. Listened to an interview with Jordan Whitehead this week and he said Suh is pretty quiet, goes about his business but works hard. Then vs. the Panthers Suh speaks up in the huddle late fourth quarter and said they were gonna stop ’em and everyone took notice. I like that.

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    • Licht and his guys in the front office are going to have some tough decisions to make this off season. It seems like we’re finally going to spend some real money on defense (Shaq and hopefully Suh as well), justifiably so based on the first 4 games of this season. However, I’m thinking it will only come at the expense of cutting or trading some solid players on both sides of the ball. If we keep getting better as the season wears on, it just makes the off season next year more interesting.

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  7. “I’ve learned a lot from watching him play,” Vea said of Suh. “He’s all about his business. He’s a real professional and I’ve learned a lot from him on and off the field. He gets a lot of double teams for us. He does a lot of the dirty work and I get a lot of the one-on-ones because of him. Obviously they are going to double Suh before they double me.”

    Mic drop on Geraldini.

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    • I would like to see Suh run at the goal line with Vea as his lead blocker!

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  8. The secondary is young you don’t fix it overnight. It will get better but calling it abysmal and trashing Licht is stupid imo. They will get better and can’t fix every issue on this team in one draft.

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    • Reps will turn our inexperienced speedy young  DBs into experienced, speedy and competent professionals.  They are still “terribly” young.

      ___________
      Go Bucs!!!

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  9. Suh is a beast I don’t care about stats he’s one of big reasons for run defense being number 1. Vea been stout as well.

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  10. Suh is everything we all hoped McCoy would be, but never was, or could be. Glad we got him, and he’s rubbing off on the rest of the defense in a good way. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a carry, or lead block near the goal line like Sapp used to. His speed on that scope, and score was impressive. He sure doesn’t look past his prime to me. Rojo has put on some muscle this season, but Koetter’s offenses just don’t commit to the run game. Just look at Atl. Freeman only had 12 carries last week while Ryan threw 60 something times. The last time Freeman’s numbers looked this bad was his rookie season, when Koetter was his O.C.. Backs have to get carries to be effective, and O linemen have to get opportunities to run block to wear down defenses. I’m glad we’re finally doing just that.

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  11. I agree that the secondary has left a lot to be desired. I do not agree that they are hopeless. Football Outsiders rates Carlton Davis as the 10th best cornerback in the NFL based on the first four week and with a 65% success rate. He has played very well as have the two safeties who show a lot of potential.

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  12. Bucs need another CB to step up. Edwards, Whitehead and Davis will be fine long term.

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    • Don’t forget Justin Evans. That Safety’s room is looking pretty solid as it stands, but add Justin back to the mix….. MJ’s snap count is gonna be WAY down.

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  13. Good read!

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  14. That Baldinger video of Shaq Barrett has me laughing and laughing and laughing! How can you not get excited watching what SB has done in the first quarter of the season?! INCONCEIVABLE! Baldy is right, defensive ends around the league would love to end a FULL season with Shaq’s stats 1/4 of the way through! GO BUCS!!

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    • Not sure if it was intended, but I definitely heard Vizzini’s voice when I read this

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      • Definitely the intended implication! LOL! Funny moment in that movie!

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  15. The Lams had a very young coach and we had an old pro. The results are to be expected.

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