Ndamukong Suh is looking forward to facing the Detroit Lions for the first time, giving him a chance to visit with friends and to dine at some new restaurants they have told him about.
“I love the city of Detroit,” said Suh, who spent the first five years of his career with the Lions. “I spend my time in the offseason there. Got great people that I communicate with and see. Great business town. There’s a lot of people that I consider mentors that are there.”
While Suh was quick to share his genuine affection for the Motor City, he chuckled when asked for his feelings about the franchise.
“I’ll refrain from my comments about the organization,” he said.
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Detroit drafted Suh second overall eight years ago and gave him a $68 million deal with $40 million guaranteed , hoping he would lead the defense while Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson starred on offense.
Suh was the only rookie to earn All-Pro honors in 2010 and he was an All-Pro two more times with the Lions. He helped Detroit end an 11-year postseason drought in 2011 and reach the playoffs again in 2014.
Miami, though, was willing to give Suh much more than the Lions were in 2015. The Dolphins signed him to a six-year, $114 million deal with $60 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history at the time.
Suh’s stay in Miami didn’t last long. He was cut earlier this year with three years left on his contract, freeing him up to sign a $14 million, one-year deal with the Rams to play alongside star defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Suh has fit in well, playing inside and on the edge for defensive coordinator Wade Philips.
“I pride myself on being able to play any position on the defensive line,” said Suh, who has 34 tackles and 3½ sacks. “And, if I need to go play linebacker, I’m happy to do so. We’re winning games, so that’s most important to me.”
The 31-year-old Suh has not won a division title, but that can change as soon as Sunday.
Los Angeles (10-1) can clinch the NFC West championship with a win over the slumping Lions (4-7) at Ford Field.
Here’s some things to watch:
While Suh enjoys his homecoming of sorts, Donald will remind the Lions what they’re missing. Detroit drafted tight end Eric Ebron No. 10 overall in 2014, passing on a chance to take Donald. The Rams selected Donald No. 13 overall and he has become one of the league’s best players. Donald has a NFL- and career-high 14½ sacks, surpassing the 11 he had last season when he was the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.
“The best part about Aaron is the first thing he’ll say is that he can always improve,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
Detroit’s defense has had a dramatic turnaround against the run, becoming the league’s only team to hold three straight opponents to fewer than 60 yards rushing this season.
After ranking last in rushing defense earlier this year, the Lions are No. 14 and Damon “Snacks” Harrison seems to have a lot to do with the turnaround. Detroit acquired Harrison from the New York Giants for a fifth-round pick.
“The problem is that as the season goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to stop the run,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
“We obviously have another huge problem this week with the run game with the Rams. Todd Gurley is one of the best backs in the league.”
READY TO ROLL
Gurley has 1,043 yards rushing, trailing only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. He had a touchdown in 13 consecutive games, setting a franchise record, before not scoring Nov. 19 during the Rams’ 54-51 win over Kansas City. He is expected to be healthy after having a minor ankle injury early against the Chiefs.
Lions receiver Bruce Ellington gave a startling answer when asked if his hamstring was healthy.
“I don’t know if it’s fully recovered because they removed it,” he said. “I don’t have it anymore.”
Ellington had a severe injury that kept him out for all of 2016 and limited him earlier this season in Houston. Ellington said he had one of his hamstring muscles removed two years ago, following a procedure recommended by former Texans receiver Andre Johnson .
“They say if you keep it, it’s going to keep scarring up,” Ellington recalled doctors telling him.
The 5-foot-9 Ellington said he’s explosive enough to dunk a basketball and to do his job with the Lions, who signed him after they traded Golden Tate to Philadelphia. He has ended up playing an even larger role because Marvin Jones is on injured reserve. Ellington has matched his career high with six catches in each of his two games in Detroit.
HELP ON THE WAY
Detroit is preparing to play against veteran cornerback Aqib Talib , who has been out since Week 3 with an ankle injury.
“They have great players on the defense, and are getting another great player back this week,” Patricia said.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Thousand Oaks, California, contributed to this report.