I was not surprised, by what I saw on my screen yesterday from Ndamukong Suh when he repeatedly banged the head of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith into the ground three times and then stomped on him. The debate has been raging for months about whether he is a dirty player or not. But the key to this whole affair was understanding that the problem in Detroit goes way beyond Suh or any player. Michael Rosenberg at the Detroit Free Press agrees as he puts the Lions loss in perspective:
“The worst part? This wasn’t surprising. You could see it coming for two years. And it’s fair to ask: If the Lions had told Suh to reel it in earlier, instead of constantly defending him, would he have learned from his mistakes by now?”
Exactly. Specifically, if you want to know why Suh did what he did and reacted afterwards as he did, you need only look at Lions head coach Jim Schwartz as put very well by John Mullin at CSNChicago.com:
“The consensus is becoming it couldn’t happen to a more fitting bunch, given the enabling conduct of coach Jim Schwartz who, after the loss to the Bears, adamantly defended Detroit players’ conduct that was subsequently fined by the NFL.”
Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune quotes Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers who puts the difference between themselves and the Lions bluntly:
“Asked about not retaliating, Rodgers said, ‘Well, that’s just the way we’re coached.'”
I haven’t finished scanning all of the quotes but its not a surprise that one of the few players who came out to make a firm comment on the situation played under Lovie Smith:
“‘I don’t want to put anything on anyone, but we can’t have that,’ Bear turned Lion Rashied Davis said. ‘It’s not Suh’s fault we lost the game. We lost this game as a team. But we can’t get that penalty.'”
But to really understand the problem, you have to recognize that it isn’t restricted to Suh. The entire Lions team is completely undisciplined and its costing them games. ESPN‘s NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert quotes Packers guard T.J. Lang after this one:
“[Suh has] been getting dumb penalties all year. That’s something we talked about all week: They were probably going to do something stupid along the way. They’ve done it in almost every game.”
They certainly did here. Penalty flags flew all over the field this game as the Lions repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. Can such undisciplined play be surprising when the Lion’s are coached by Schwartz, a man who completely lost control after a loss to the 49ers? Who, after an admittedly overly enthusiastic handshake and slap on the back after the game, ran after 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh down the field, ultimately climbing over people to get at him in a reasonable imitation of former Oregon runningback LeGarrette Blount?
So you think, “Well, now at least Suh understands the problem,” right? “He’s now going to stand up and take responsibility,” right? Think again. From Seifert:
“What I did was remove myself from the situation in the best way I felt, me being held down in the situation I was in. And further, my intentions were not to kick anybody, as I did not, removing myself as you see, I’m walking away from the situation and with that I apologize to my teammates and my fans and my coaches for putting myself in the position to be misinterpreted and taken out of the game.”
No one who saw the replay of this incident could possibly believe that Suh didn’t kick out at Dietrich-Smith on the ground. The truth is that Suh got blocked to the ground and didn’t like it.
Why would Suh react like this? We need only look at Schwartz’s response to the 49ers incident where he lost a game and completely lost his temper (via Bob Wojnowski at The Detroit News):
“Let me just say this. There’s a lot more to it than the backslap. And I’m gonna do whatever I can to continue to fight for the city of Detroit and for the Detroit Lions. I reacted and I wasn’t worried about how it was going to look. I don’t really pay much attention to other people. I’m sort of arrogant that way.”
Schwartz wasn’t thinking about the city of Detroit any more than Suh was “walking away from the situation” rather than kicking Evan Dietrich-Smith. The explanation is a weak attempt to dodge a responsibility where, regardless of Harbaugh’s behavior, Schwartz was obviously wrong. Like coach like player.
But even more important, Jim Schwartz has got to understand something if he wants to last as the coach of the Lions. His players, especially his young players like Suh, are always, always looking to him as an example of how to act. Every team in every walk of life to at least some extent reflects the personality of the person at its head. Its the nature of leadership. And his team will never play with the discipline and accountability necessary to win as long as he doesn’t display it himself.