While the Browns fanbase (and certain disciplinary outposts in the NFL's head offices) found Ndamukong Suh's attempt to twist Jake Delhomme's head off like a bottle top to be most interesting, I saw a compelling story in how Cleveland's offensive line kept Suh off Delhomme most of the time. When I first wrote about Suh for Football Outsiders, he was playing for Nebraska, and he had just demolished Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (you may know him) for 4 ½ sacks. What I saw of Suh in college was difficult to describe without resorting to hyperbole, but it's safe to say that I haven't seen too many defenders with more potential at the college level.
What was interesting to me in last week's preseason game was how the Browns set their line with a bead on Suh from the start. This is almost unheard of for a defensive rookie in his third preseason game, but it was a clear indication of what Suh's NFL opponents think of him.
The Browns also set up blocks in which they'd pass Suh off from right guard to center, trying to use his own momentum against him, and run the other way. I really liked Lauvao's ability to get push on Suh; it's now something I've seen too many offensive linemen do to him. But again, the Lions have too much talent in their front seven at this point to put too much focus on Suh without playing for it elsewhere.
When he lined up as a one-tech, filling the gap between center and right guard, he'd try hook moves inside on Lauvao, only to get doubled by Pashos. This was how the Browns kept Suh at bay on a three-yard pass from Delhomme to Chansi Stuckey on third-and-5 from the Detroit 45-yard line with 12:31 left in the first half.
On the next play, fourth-and-2, Delhomme called out to shotgun against an all-out blitz and got the pass off for the first down. The Browns went bunch right to draw the defense in, and threw to Mohamed Massaquoi on the other side. The short route opposite bunch (Fig. 2) has become a staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense, but it's a good concept when it isn't used for evil. It was a great audible by Delhomme, and Massaquoi sold the route perfectly, fording cornerback Dre' Bly to over-run his coverage.
Two plays later, Suh finally split one of the double-teams and chased Delhomme out of the pocket. The defensive call was a very effective one – the Lions lined up in an under front (aligned against the strong side), Suh took off outside from the three-tech, and end Turk McBride lopped inside. But Delhomme was able to get a pass off to Josh Cribbs for a 12-yard gain. This took the ball from the Detroit 32 to the 20. Suh subbed out on the next play, and the Lions couldn't get the same push – that was very clear, and it was easy to see why the Browns were so concerned about Suh's abilities.
In the end, Suh picked up two tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback disruption that will certainly make his wallet lighter, and a great deal of impressive film. He will be facing stronger guards and more complex blocking schemes, and they may set him back for a while, But eventually, if he stays healthy, I have no doubt that Ndamukong Suh will tear the NFL up, just the way he did in college. The Browns did an impressive job of keeping Suh – and the Lions' improved defensive line – at bay. That's an encouraging sign with the regular season just days away.