With 5:06 left in the 2nd quarter of the Bears 13-7 Monday Night win against the division rival Detroit Lions, Bears fans wondered aloud if a vicious sack by Lions DT Ndamukong Suh had ended QB Jay Cutler’s season prematurely (and subsequently the Bears title hopes), as well as whether or not the hit was legal. The hit was indeed nasty, but before we fine Suh (who has to have a separate savings account for fines nowadays) enough to significantly decrease the national deficit, let’s take a look at why it happened as well as the sack itself.
Pre-snap, notice the formation the Bears show. With a designed play-action deep ball, the Bears actually double-teamed both Suh and DE Cliff Avril. Suh (yellow circle) is lined up opposite of OG Lance Louis. RT Gabe Carimi (both in pink circle) is going to double-team the menacing DT. At the same time, you’ll notice that TE Kellen Davis and TE Matt Spaeth (lined up in the backfield) are going to double-team Avril.
Even prior to Cutler faking the hand-off to RB Michael Bush on this play-action pass, notice that Louis is already in bad position. Suh has the inside lane to get to Cutler in a hurry. On this play, Carimi did what he was supposed to do (protect on Louis’ right side) as did both TE’s.
As soon as Cutler turns around, Suh has already broken through the line and has a clear path to Cutler. Also notice on this play that J’Marcus Webb (#73) has been beaten on the outside. Webb is actually still in proper position, as the goal of the play was for Cutler to have enough time to step up in the pocket on this throw and Webb is still protecting the pocket.
With Suh in the backfield nearly immediately, Cutler is forced to scramble to his right. Given that the Bears were in a Max-Protect formation, it’s safe to assume Chicago was looking for a deep pass, presumably to WR Devin Hester who was lined up on Cutler’s right at the beginning of the play. However as Cutler scrambled (and looking up-field) Suh grabbed a hold of Cutler’s undershirt, and began to reel him in.
This still is one that will be debated for the rest of the season. As Suh reached around Cutler’s shoulder, the DT’s leg whipped around Cutler’s leg. Watching this play in real-time, and knowing Suh’s history of vicious, illegal hits, it isn’t completely unfair to assume Suh was attempting to take Cutler’s leg’s out from under him and cause bodily harm.
However when looking at the play just a split-second later, notice that Suh’s leg is actually flush with Cutler’s leg. Suh did not violently jam his knee into the side of Cutler’s leg. His momentum simply took the lower half of his body to Cutler’s right side prior to Suh slamming Cutler down to the turf.
After watching this play several times, I do not feel in any way the hit was illegal or fine-worthy. This is football, and the men playing are freakish titans with freakish talent. This was a football play, in which a violent collision occurred. I can’t speak for all football fans everywhere, but there has been a lot of criticism over the league’s emphasis on keeping quarterbacks safe, to the point of creating unrealistic expectations of defensive players when they attempt to sack the opposing quarterback. I refuse to be the guy that gets frustrated when other QBs get the flag-football treatment, then get upset when my QB takes a similar hit. I personally have no issue with Suh’s tackle on this play.
Several comments were made post-game by both Cutler and Suh regarding the sack.
Cutler, from the Chicago Tribune:
— “It was a tough hit and he caught me just right. It was an awkward fall more than anything.”
— “I still think it was clean and he is a good player. … I knew it was my ribs and it wasn’t my shoulder or head or anything like that. His knee and the ball got caught in my ribs. … I knew on my way down it wasn’t going to be good.”‘
— “Their defense is much improved. That front four is just amazing. … We got some penalties, I missed some throws. … A tough division game, a tough defense. … I thought our line did a great job controlling those guys.”
Brandon Marshall had a different take on the events. He tweeted the following:
— “A Suh. What u did to Jay wasn’t cool. Great players don’t have to do that.”
— “A Suh. Something I’ve learned and now passing down to you. Succeed with character.”
Marshall commented later, via ESPN:
— “Last night the leg whip that Ndamukong Suh placed on our quarterback Jay Cutler, that was dirty. That was dirty. He can be one of the best D-tackles that ever done it, but he cannot do that that way. If you look at it, c’mon man, this is not wrestling. You don’t do that. That’s not clean.”
Without getting into diagnosing Marshall’s words, one thing is for sure: This guy loves Jay Cutler. He’s going to defend him to the end, regardless of extenuating circumstances. Whether he’s right or wrong, which is debatable, this is the connection I hope to see between my team’s QB and #1 WR.
And Suh, via the same article:
— “Simply a football play. I can’t control my momentum, especially at that high speed. I’m chasing him. He’s running away from me. My whole goal is just to get the quarterback down and make a play and get us off the field or move on to the next play.”
Let’s call it what it is. Suh is one of the most ferocious defensive players in the NFL, and yes, his goal is not to hit a QB, but drive him to the ground. That being said, this play was within the rules of the game. Let’s be thankful for the win, thankful for Cutler’s health, and thankful to be 5-1.
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