When a Dirty Play is Not a Dirty Play

Ndamukong Suh made a dirty play on Sunday. It’s the type of thing that can end a guy’s season (People keep saying career, but how many people actually have their careers ended by one-time injuries anymore unless they’re already really old?). It’s the type of thing I wouldn’t want my future children doing or the type of thing I would want done to them. It’s the type of thing that should be banned from the game. And it wasn’t a dirty play.

Am I sounding contradictory enough yet? That’s because the NFL is among the most contradictory things in America. It’s a league where you root for the big hits (even if you don’t admit it), praise guys for playing through injuries (or crucify them for not doing so), and constantly venerate the ideals of “smash-mouth football”. And then you get on talk radio and complain about guys getting injured.

In the context of modern society, what Suh did was morally reprehensible. If you saw one guy do this to another guy on the street, it would probably lead to you being a witness in a civil suit. In the context of modern society, what Suh did is wrong. In the context of football, there’s only one word that can describe it: Meh. What Ndamukong Suh did on the football field on Sunday is not morally reprehensible. It is not reason to yell, “My word! What has he done!?”

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Ndamukong Suh’s hit is not a dirty play because in the context of American football, it’s not that big a deal. It’s hard-nosed and smash-mouth, and toughsoundingadjective-bodypart (stiff-arm? lock-jaw?). It’s the type of play where Suh would have been praised for his hustle if it hadn’t been flagged. And it happens all the time.

While the national media are up in arms over Suh putting a low block on John Sullivan (Mike & Mike have spent the past 4 days rehashing the incident), while Suh gets fined a record $100,000 for the hit, Clay Matthews still has not received a fine for his flying, super-late, superman hit on Colin Kaepernick out of bounds or the subsequent fisticuffs.

While Ndamukong Suh’s block is being called heinous and unconscionable, no one is bringing into the discussion that if an offensive player had done this to Suh in the pocket, it wouldn’t have even been a penalty, let alone a fine or the subject of national media scrutiny. Watch Suh on the following GIFs.

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The first one is from the infamous 2011 Thanksgiving Day game where Suh eventually lost his temper and stomped an offensive lineman’s arm. It was 1 of 3 times that the Packers went after Suh’s knees. The second GIF is from last year’s week 10 game against the Vikings. It was 1 of 2 times Suh was cut down at the knees. I didn’t have to search for these. I just picked 2 games I wanted to look at and found 5 examples. This happens all the time. While the media cries about Suh being dirty, they don’t notice the very same “dirty” plays from the opposition. It’s confirmation bias. It’s seeing what you want to see to tell the story you want to tell. It’s feigning moral outrage to show your audience that you can cheer on big hits and praise “pound the rock” football because you’re speaking from the moral high ground. It’s self-serving, self-righteousness in a game where no players and no plays are perfectly “clean”.

Detroit Lions Dance-Off: Week 1

This Sunday, the Lions got back to being themselves. They featured an explosive offense, a dangerous pass rush, a few glaring missed tackled, some good old fashioned boneheaded penalties, and plenty of sweet sweet dancing. In case you couldn’t guess from the title, this post is going to focus mostly on the last on that list, but first, I wanted to point out just how badly Reggie Bush toasted Chad Greenway with the following GIF I made.

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This is the definition of breaking someone’s ankles. Reggie embarrassed Greenway to the point that he just gave up and laid down on the field. And this wasn’t the only time. This is just one example of at least half a dozen times Reggie just outclassed Greenway. Anyway, back to serious business: dancing.

The first glorious example is from possibly the most unexpected source, Joe Fauria. The undrafted rookie burst onto the touchdown celebration scene with the following unabashed display.

Judging by Lions fans on twitter, I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking that Tony Scheffler’s in-game production can be fairly easily replaced. With Joe Fauria impressing in training camp, the popular belief over the past month has been that he’d be more than capable of taking over Scheffler’s receiving TE/slot WR hybrid role. The one reservation that I had about Fauria was that he’d have to replace a pretty large celebration void. If this first touchdown dance is a sign of things to come, Joe Fauria should more than fill that void. What he lacks in well-rehearsed and topical humor, he makes up for in “really goin’ for it, whiteboy style” (this is a technical term).

The next solid display was put in by another rookie, Ziggy (I constantly forget that this is short for Ezekiel and instead think it’s short for Zigginald. I will now always call him Zigginald) Ansah. This dance followed his sack of Christian Ponder (not sure if this should be credited as a sack because I’m not sure that Ponder qualifies as a “quarterback” per se).

Apparently this is a Ghanaian dance called the Azonto. As I said above, it’s solid, although unspectacular. I love that he repped his home country and it does have a certain smoothness and rhythm to it, but at first glance I found it reminiscent of Techno Viking, which really got my hopes up (I’ve been campaigning for a Lion to do this against Minnesota for 2 years now).

Upon finding out that Zigginald was not performing Techno Viking, I had no choice but to downgrade his dance, if only just a little.

The next dance is our first example of a veteran on this list, with Nick Fairley busting out the tried and true Sprinkler move.

This dance got a decent amount of hype, probably because it channeled the “really goin’ for it, whiteboy style” of some of the Detroit Lions beat writers. Ahem, Kyle Meinke…

Despite the fanfare, the lack of proper technique kind of ruined this one for me. Anyway, moving on.

The final example in Lions celebrations today really caps this list off well. It combines a familiar idea (climbing into the crowd) with an innovative new celebration. Instead of the usual passive approach of the Lambeau leap, Joique Bell led the crowd in Hip Hop Hooray by Naughty By Nature.

Hopefully the Lions can continue to add to this pile of great celebrations with plenty more sacks and touchdowns throughout the season.

Detroit Lions Draft Review

Today, I’ll be doing a comprehensive review of the Lions 2013 draft, including how I see the players fitting into the Lions roster and some overarching trends of the draft class.

Round 1, Pick 5, Ezekiel Ansah DE – BYU

At 6’5″, 271 lbs, he has the power, speed, size, and length you want in a defensive end. He’s explosive and quick and no one doubts his athletic ability. His problem is that he’s raw. He didn’t start playing football in any capacity until 2010. He can certainly be described as “boom or bust” and Mike Mayock of NFL Network was quoted as saying, “In 3 years he’s either all pro or on the street.” How comforting. Still, he seems to have good instincts as far as reading reverses and screens and finding the ball. His technique just needs work.

My first reaction was to hate this pick because of how raw he is. The Lions need help at defensive end immediately with the losses of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. With the 5th overall pick, you’re not supposed to gamble. However, as I heard more about him and saw the draft come together as a whole, I began to like it more and more. Physically, he’s got everything you could want from a defensive end. His tremendous size and athleticism combo is rare in a prospect. If you were to add tremendous technique, you’d have Jadeveon Clowney (already crowned the 1st overall pick next year) and he’d be long gone by the #5 pick. In addition, the Lions coached him at the Senior Bowl and he dominated that game playing the wide 9 technique employed by the Lions, so they should have an idea of how well he takes coaching. The front office is comfortable that he could offer enough right now to start at DE and will only get better. The addition of Jim Washburn to the Lions’ coaching staff as a 2nd defensive line coach gives them plenty of coaching resources to devote to improving a guy like this. And the only guys in the draft that were demonstrably better than Ansah were Joeckel and Fisher and they were the top 2 picks. A lot of people thought the Lions should go with a cornerback or guard in this spot, but as it turns out, the Lions picked up starters that those spots later in the draft. Sure, it was a disappointment not to get an offensive tackle, seeing as how that was the strength of this draft, but with the #5 overall pick, you shouldn’t be taking the 4th best offensive tackle, and there were probably only 3 tackles in the draft better than Riley Reiff anyway.

As for fit, this pick is ideal. Ansah’s athleticism and the wide 9 are perfect for each other. He’ll be asked to do little else but rush the passer, which will help shorten his learning curve, and the wide alignment will give him space to use his athleticism to wreak havoc. And after it’s all said and done, he can’t possibly be worse than KVB and Avril were this past year. They graded out as a combined -42.8. If they were to be replaced with simply average players, the Lions overall defense would have gone from ranking 26th to 17th in PFF score.

2nd Round, Pick 4, Darius Slay CB – Mississippi State

Darius Slay is the cornerback Martin Mayhew has been looking for. For a corner, he’s got good size, at 6’0″, 192 lbs and great speed (he was timed at 4.36 seconds in his 40 yard dash at the combine). He can play on the outside and match up against the bigger receivers the Lions will face. He’s better in coverage than in run support, which will probably keep him from playing a significant amount in the slot.

Leading up to the draft, I didn’t believe that CB was as big a need as some like Mel Kiper made it out to be. This offseason, the Lions re-signed their #1 cornerback in Chris Houston, which stabilizes that position for a number of years. Additionally, last year’s draft provided the Lions with 3 cornerbacks, two of which showed enough last year to think that they’ll be a part of the Lions plans going forward. The Lions also signed Ron Bartell, a former 2nd round pick, last year. He also provides the size and speed Mayhew is looking for (he was 6’1″, 211 lbs at the 2005 NFL combine and ran a 4.37 forty). That said, I really like this pick. Slay provides a combination of size and speed that the other young guys can’t match. He can step in and immediately compete for the starting spot opposite Houston and probably win the job. And while the Lions had 4 solid guys coming into the draft, NFL offenses are tending towards more 3 and 4 WR sets with size and speed across the board. Depth at cornerback is key both in terms of matchups and injury fill-ins. And none of those guys are really proven aside from Houston, so a guy that can start on the other side was a must. To fill that #2 corner role without having to use your 1st round pick on a guy like Milliner means they got a good value here.

3rd Round, Pick 3, Larry Warford OG – Kentucky

Lary Warford is a big dude. He’s a mauler and a very good in-line blocker. He can both pass protect and run block and has nimble feet. In some of the scouting reports I’ve read, he’s been described as a good athlete, though his ability to move over large distances has been questioned.

Again, I really like this pick for the Lions. Many projected him to go in the 2nd round, so this presents good value. He’ll step in and start day 1 and I feel comfortable that he’ll be very good at protecting Stafford and opening up running lanes between the tackles. My one hesitation is in how he fits into the Lions’ scheme. Not being able to move well could cause him trouble with pulling and in the screen game. However, these concerns are fairly minor and should be something he’ll get better at as he improves his fitness with an NFL strength and conditioning coach. He replaces Stephen Peterman, who was mediocre, at best, last year. He should improve both the pass protection and inside running game immediately and the Lions rarely used Peterman as a pulling guard, so I don’t expect Warford to limit the offense at all. Surefire starter in the 3rd round? I’ll take it.

4th Round, Pick 35, Devin Taylor DE – South Carolina

If you read my Denard Robinson piece, you’ve already heard a little bit about Devin Taylor. He’s 6’7″, 266 lbs, and an incredible athlete with freakishly long arms. His combine numbers rivaled those of Ziggy Ansah. On the flip side, he wasn’t very productive across from the best pass rusher in college football and struggles with technique. His pad level can get high and he struggles to effectively use his length. Still, you can coach technique, and his potential is huge.

I love this pick for the Lions. He falls very much in line with their former 4th round picks in Sammie Lee Hill and Jason Fox. He’s a guy you bring in as depth and develop him over time. And you get a guy with great athleticism with 3 years of starting experience in the SEC in the late 4th round. I think he can step in this year as a rotational DE in a similar capacity to Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young last year and hopefully eventually develop into a starter. This offseason, the Lions lost 3 defensive ends in KVB, Avril, and LoJack, so with Jason Jones and Ansah, Taylor should round out the rotation.

5th Round, Pick 32, Sam Martin P – Appalachian State

People that bash teams for drafting punters are stupid. Here is a list of the Lions’ 5th round draft picks from the last 10 years: Terrence Holt, James Davis, Alex Lewis, Dan Orlovsky, Jonathan Scott, Johnny Baldwin, Kenneth Moore, Jerome Felton, Doug Hogue, Tahir Whitehead, and Chris Greenwood. That list is riddled with guys that were backups, failures, or fringe starters for other teams. Here’s another list: Dave Zastudil, Bryan Anger, Reggie Hodges, Donnie Jones, Dustin Colquitt, Sam Koch, Shane Lechler, Adam Podlesh, Mike Scifres, Kevin Huber, Brad Nortman, Thomas Morstead, Brandon Fields, Pat McAfee, Andy Lee, Matt Bosher, and Zoltan Mesko. These are punters that were drafted that played in all 16 of their respective teams’ games last year. So tell me this, would you rather have a guy that might fill the last spot on your roster and not make an impact on games for at least 2 years, if ever, or would you rather have a guaranteed starter that could be on your teams 20 years from now?

Sam Martin is a punter. He was apparently one of the top 2 punters on the Lions board. He’s got a big leg and can kick off. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot else you can say about punters, or at least nothing that I can speak intelligently about. He’s fairly new to punting, as he played soccer all throughout high school, tried out kicking his senior year and got scholarship offers. He’s done both kicking and punting in college and improved significantly his senior year after beginning to work with a kicking specialist to improve his technique. Because of this, he still has potential to improve. Many of you will question taking this particular guy because he wasn’t #1 or #2 on most people’s lists. But how many of those people actually scouted punters? If we’re talking RBs or QBs or pretty much any other position, the rankings might hold some value, but with punters, I think one guy looks at the big schools and sees who has the good punters and ranks them and then everyone else copies. I trust that the Lions have done their due diligence here more so than I trust a guy who reluctantly made a list of draftable punters. I mean, the guy averaged 45.9 yards per punt last year

Contrary to most, this is my favorite pick that the Lions made. You get an immediate starter at the end of the 5th round at a position where he can step in and his skills should translate directly to the NFL (Either way, you’re just going out there to kick the ball down the field). Additionally, punting was perhaps the Lions biggest weakness last year. It directly cost them 2 games and certainly lost them the field position battle (a way underrated aspect of football) in the majority of the others. It’s easy to see how high picks can be given starting spots right away and make an impact on games as long as you get talented guys that line up with needs, but it takes a little creativity to get a starter at the end of the 5th round.

6th Round, Pick 3, Corey Fuller WR – Virginia Tech

Corey Fuller is 6’2″ tall and weighs 204 lbs. He ran track for 2 years at Kentucky before transferring to VT to play football. Those physical attributes alone make him worth a 6th round pick. He’s tall, fast, makes explosive cuts and has shown the ability to catch the ball. The problem with Fuller is his inexperience. After running track for 2 years and backing up for a year, he only started one year. This shows up with inconsistency in running routes and securing the football. The other issue is that he looks rail thin, even for a wide receiver, and he must prove that he can handle press coverage.

I think this pick is great value for the Lions. The biggest thing the Lions were looking for in a wide receiver this offseason was the ability to force teams to put a safety over the top opposite CJ. It’s the reason they tried to sign Darrius Heyward-Bey. They want a guy with pure straight line speed to keep defenses honest. While Fuller doesn’t have quite the elite pure speed of DHB, he is certainly very fast and can play that role for the Lions. His inexperience will keep him from contributing a whole lot more this year, but if he makes the team, don’t be surprised to see him on the opposite side of CJ at some point running 9 routes.

6th Round, Pick 31, Theo Riddick RB – Notre Dame

Theo Riddick is a 3rd down back type. He’s good at running routes and catching passes, but lacks the athleticism to do a whole lot more. He played some wide receiver, so he can also line up in the slot.

If he makes the team, he’ll be an injury backup to Reggie Bush and can fill an important void in that respect. He won’t be nearly as fast or explosive, but can play a significant role in the passing game. He lacks upside, but his versatility will be intriguing to the Lions. I like that the Lions tend to draft more towards need in the later rounds. It allows you to target a spot on your roster that a guy can possibly slip in to. If you’re drafting a 7th string WR just because he’s the best on the board doesn’t give him a very good chance at making the roster. But if you’re looking for a guy to fill a role, you might as well draft someone that fits the profile and let him battle for that spot in camp. Maybe he’ll win the job or maybe you’ll find an undrafted free agent or veteran guy that fills the role better, but at the very least, you get a better shot at production out of him.

7th Round, Pick 5, Michael Williams TE – Alabama

Michael Williams is a 6’5″, 278 pound tight end with offensive lineman speed (5.16 second 40 yard dash at his pro day). Certainly he won’t be the type to stretch the field, but he can probably be about as productive as Will Heller in the passing game, catching short and intermediate stuff to catch the defense napping. His real value comes from his blocking, where he was one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft. He’s essentially a lean offensive tackle that can catch.

I actually don’t see any way that he doesn’t make the Lions team with a good chance of being active week in and week out. He’ll immediately step in to Will Heller’s 3rd tight end role and also fill the role that Riley Reiff played last year, coming in as a 6th o-lineman on some plays. He’s not an all-around tight end that has grown in popularity in recent years and likely never will be, but he’ll stick on NFL rosters for a while because of what he can do.

7th Round, Pick 39, Brandon Hepburn ILB – Florida A&M

Brandon Hepburn is a small school guy who is a good athlete, but a better student. He carried a full academic load in biochemistry and walked on to the FAMU football team. He put up respectable numbers at the combine and should be a solid developmental guy. He has trouble working between the tackles and finding his way through the garbage at the line, so he’ll need some work before he’s ready to contribute, but his physical tools shouldn’t hold him back.

For one of the last picks in the draft, this seems like pretty good value. He’ll start out on the practice squad or one of the last spots on the roster and develop for a few years similar to Ashlee Palmer has done. It’s hard not to like Hepburn because he’s got high hopes outside of football and seems like a very intelligent guy. This could be the first time in his life he’s focused solely on football, and carrying a full academic load while playing football isn’t easy, so you know he’s not afraid of working hard. And he was literally the only linebacker that smiled in his NFL combine photo, so I like him already. Hopefully, he can make his stamp on special teams and develop into a guy that can contribute. The Lions are a little thin a linebacker, so it’s not hard to imagine that he could fill out the depth there.

Draft Class Trends

Immediate Impact

It’s easy to see how this draft class fits into the roster and makes an immediate impact. There are 4 day 1 starters in Ansah, Slay, Warford, and Martin. Aside from them, Devin Taylor, Corey Fuller, and Michael Williams should have a rotational role from the start. Theo Riddick and Brandon Hepburn both have a shot to stick with the team and develop in time. The Lions seemed to have a very clear idea to fill their needs coming in to this draft and managed to do it while getting good value throughout the draft.

Physical Tools

Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor were both among the top combine performers at their position and offer prototypical height and weight. Darius Slay offers both height and speed to cover big, fast receivers on the outside. Larry Warford is a massive guy, and Corey Fuller is a track athlete with great straight line speed. Martin Mayhew has said in his press conferences that one of the Lions’ objectives was to get bigger and faster. Mission accomplished. The change will be especially noticeable at DE, where the top 4 guys on the roster are all huge and athletic. Add in a number of corners that are 6 foot plus with speed and you have yourself a scary defense.

Upside

This goes hand in hand with the physical tools. Ansah, Taylor, and Fuller all have prototypical height and speed, but need work on technique. Sam Martin is still relatively new to punting and has room to improve. And for a 7th round pick, Hepburn has all the physical attributes you’d expect from a linebacker. The only things holding him back are mental and technical. The Lions are putting the onus on the coaching staff here. Teach these athletes to play football and you’ll get production. If not, this team could easily sink back into a losing record and the coaching staff will be different a year from now.

Why the Lions were right to pass on Denard Robinson

As many of you may know, Denard Robinson is the former QB (then RB and WR) of the Michigan Wolverines. Leading up to the draft (and throughout), many Lions fans shouted from the rooftops for the Lions to grab him in the 2nd…then the 3rd…then the 4th…and 5th. Turns out the Lions juuuuust missed him, as the Jaguars selected him 2 spots before the Lions picked in the 5th round. After the conclusion of the draft, NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport revealed that the Lions would have taken Denard had he still been there.

However, Justin Rogers of Mlive.com later debunked that rumor upon speaking with Martin Mayhew.

Still, this report added fuel to the debate  over whether the Lions should have drafted him or not, given that they chose DE Devin Taylor just 3 spots before Robinson’s selection. A certain well-known Detroit-area troll indicated that this was the biggest disappointment of the Lions’ draft. I don’t think this is even an issue for discussion if Denard Robinson wasn’t from the University of Michigan. As a New Jersey native living in the Washington D. C. area, I have no ties the University of Michigan and don’t really even watch a whole lot of college football. I suppose I understand the homerism. I would love the Lions to snag a Rutgers kid (I was campaigning hard for Ray Rice back in the day) or a Maryland player (I’m sure you guys would all love to have Vernon Davis or Torrey Smith, and watch out for Stefon Diggs in a couple years). I, for one, am incredibly happy the Lions did not draft Robinson and would like to convince you that this is for the best.

First of all, what makes Denard Robinson and intriguing prospect? In a word, athleticism. Denard is an impressive athlete with tremendous college production and when in space, he can make explosive plays. But that’s the problem. You need to get him in space first. Playing most of his career as a quarterback (which he isn’t capable of doing as a pro), he didn’t see many snaps at RB or WR. As a running back prospect, Denard lacks the size to be an every-down contributor and is almost completely unproven in that role at the collegiate level. While his frame is well suited to make him a slot wide receiver, reports from the Senior Bowl indicate that he had significant trouble running routes, catching the ball, even lining up in the right spot. These struggles will also hurt his value as a RB because pass catching is a necessary skill for a third down back. As a kick returner, he is completely raw, only fielding kicks and punts starting this offseason (and dropping many of them). Ziggy Ansah looks like a polished pro next to this guy.

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And then you can talk about where he would have to be selected. For the Lions to pick Robinson, they would have had to pass up Devin Taylor. Devin Taylor is a 6’7″, 266 lb defensive end with 36″ long arms (that’s freakishly long). At the combine, among defensive linemen, he ran the 8th fastest 40, had the 5th best vertical jump, best broad jump, 2nd best 3 cone drill, and 2nd best 20 yard shuttle. He is an athletic, physical freak, almost rivaling Ziggy Ansah in his athleticism. He has an ideal frame for the position and a high motor. And he has 4 years of collegiate experience in the SEC at that position. Devin Taylor can step in and contribute to the defensive line rotation immediately and develop into a starter in a short period of time. He doesn’t need to be taught the basic requirements of the position.

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My point here is that while Denard Robinson is an awesome athlete, so are a lot of guys coming out of college football. But most of those other guys have a position. Picking a guy without a position in the hope that he learns to do any one of a number of things well is a luxury that the Lions don’t have. And certainly, there is better value to be found in the late 4th, where the Lions continued to select starters and guys with a specific and significant rotational role. Denard is a purely developmental prospect at this point and worth more to a team that can let him sit and develop than a team like the Lions trying to get back on track.