LAKE FOREST – Jay Cutler acted as if he would rather play without a helmet than praise Ndamukong Suh, the hard-hitting, brash-talking defensive tackle on the Detroit Lions.
“Just ask him,” Cutler said dismissively Thursday. “He’ll tell you all about himself.”
With that, a pivotal showdown added another layer of intrigue heading into Monday night.
The Bears (2-2) returned to Halas Hall to prepare for a nationally televised game against the resurgent Lions (4-0), who are undefeated through four games for the first time since 1980. The Lions’ turnaround has followed the arrival of Suh, the No. 2 overall pick out of Nebraska in the 2010 draft.
Suh holds a lofty view of his abilities, and he doesn’t apologize for it. As part of the cover story in this week’s Sports Illustrated, he told the magazine, “Nobody’s seen a specimen like myself.”
If you stood 6-foot-4, weighed 307 pounds, could outrun most quarterbacks and had the ability to bench press 225 pounds a few dozen times, you might feel the same way.
“Most people at this level see themselves as being different,” Suh said during a conference call with Bears reporters. “There’s something obviously special about them, or they wouldn’t be playing at this particular level.
“For me to say that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think people sometimes take things out of context and don’t really see the deeper intellectual thinking for the reason I said that.”
It doesn’t take a deeply intellectual analysis to break down Monday’s matchup.
If Suh gets his hands on Cutler, the Bears could be in serious trouble.
If Suh fails to get his hands on Cutler, the Bears could douse the Lions’ hot start.
Despite the stakes, no one at Halas Hall seemed eager to join Suh’s fan club.
“He’s human, you know?” said Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis, who could start at guard or tackle. “He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else.”
Add Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice to the parade of backhanded compliments.
“I hope we can block him at least once,” Tice deadpanned.
But what other defensive lineman possesses Suh’s combination of strength and speed?
“It’s the NFL,” Louis said. “Everybody is strong and fast.”
Maybe so, but Suh is stronger and faster than the vast majority of his peers. He has registered 12 sacks since he entered the league, which is the most of any defensive tackle during that span, and he requires consistent double teams to slow his momentum.
On certain plays, however, the Bears will have to rely on one-on-one blocking to stop Suh. The Lions’ edge rushers, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, also pose a threat to Cutler.
“If you double [Suh] every play, then I don’t have enough guys,” Tice said. “Guys have got to earn their money sometimes.”
Naturally, Suh will be gunning for more sacks Monday night.
Just ask him.
“I don’t like knocking people out,” Suh said. “I like rattling a quarterback and having him frustrated, and if he unfortunately takes a tough hit and has to leave the game, so be it. That’s not necessarily my concern.”