Ndamukong Suh wins NFC North Defensive Player of the Year

Offenses consistently said they had to plan differently when they faced the Detroit Lions this season, and a lot of that had to do with Ndamukong Suh.

Suh doesn’t have the overwhelming statistics of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, but his influence on a game is unquestioned. When teams tried to single-block him – early against Miami is one example – the fifth-year defensive tackle annihilated opponents and wrecked opposing backfields. Sometimes he was even able to do that when double-teamed as well.

While his reputation as a game-changer helps, he was the overwhelming pick as the NFC North Defensive Player of the Year, garnering four of five first-place votes and 14 overall points. Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews finished second with six points (and one first-place vote), followed by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (5.5 points), Detroit safety Glover Quin (2.5 points), Minnesota safety Harrison Smith (1 point) and Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers (1 point).

The five voters were asked to rank their top three choices with a first-place vote gaining three points, a second-place vote two points and a third-place vote one point.

Suh had 53 tackles this season, 8.5 sacks and two pass breakups. He consistently faced double-teams and that opened up rush lanes for linebackers Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy along with single blocks for the rest of the Lions’ defensive linemen. Many of those linemen had career seasons.

“He’s a dominant, dominant player who we benefit greatly from having his services,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last month. “He’s a tremendous asset to our team.”

Suh has been a force for Detroit since being drafted by the Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He has been named a first-team All-Pro four times and to the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons in the league.

He’s also remained remarkably durable at a position in the trenches, only missing games because of a suspension in 2011. This season, though, might have been some of his finest work in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s new, attacking 4-3 scheme.

Suh led a Lions defense that ranked in the top five in almost every major category, including having the NFL’s top run defense.

“He’s got great strength, which is great for those inside rushers, because they can power offensive guards back,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said in December. “He has great quickness as well and if he starts one way and the guard moves, he can really get underneath a guy and power him back into the quarterback. His strength and quickness are to me a huge advantage for an inside defensive player.

“… He's different from a lot of [defensive tackles] that I've had, but he's similar. Geno Atkins was extremely strong and quick like Suh is, but Suh is a bigger player, bigger-body guy, which helps even in the power part of things. He has those rare attributes that are hard to find for an inside guy. I think he's one of the best of all-time."

Whether he remains in Detroit is still a question as Suh is slated to enter free agency next month. Where Suh ends up is one of the most interesting questions of the offseason.