Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah has been kicking ass all season long, even as the Lions kept losing, but I'm not sure many people outside of Detroit noticed. But I tell you what, notching 3.5 sacks on national TV on Thanksgiving is a pretty good way to get people talking. Ansah was able to show just how far he has come as a pass rusher after picking up football for the first time ever in 2010 and help his team beat the brakes off of Philly. For that, he earned my Hoss Of The Week Award for Week 12 of the NFL season.
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During the summer I wrote a column where I selected a breakout player for each of the 32 NFL teams. My choice of Ansah may not have been an obvious one, but I had good reason to believe he was on the cusp of taking his production to another level.
Ansah hasn't actually been playing American football for very long -- his first time ever was in 2010 at BYU -- and he was still learning how to play the game with good technique his first couple of years in the league. Blessed with with the height, weight, strength and athletic ability to be a dominant defensive end, Ansah was able to notch eight sacks in his rookie year and 7.5 more last season while still being raw as a pass rusher.
It's not that he didn't have pass rush moves, but they weren't very crisp. He wasn't always precise with his hands, which led to him getting blocked by guys he ought to have been embarrassing. As last season went on, I started to see the light coming on for Ansah. Instead of relying so heavily on his bull rush, which had been his go-to move for most of his young career, he started doing a much better job of running around blockers when the opportunity presented itself. His hands started to become weapons and he was able to swipe an offensive tackle's hands with the best of them by the end of last season.
I figured if his development continued on the same pace it did at the end of last season, Ansah was ready to take a huge leap forward this year and get a lot closer to that "elite pass rusher" status that you would expect from the fifth overall pick in the draft.
I readily admit that I haven't been right about all of the guys I chose as breakout players. I've been hilariously wrong on a couple. But Ansah has exceeded my lofty expectations.
Ansah is ballin' in a season that saw his team stumble out of the blocks to a 1-7 record, a start, that eventually ended up claiming the jobs of the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, GM and team president. It's been easy for folks to overlook the work Ansah has been putting in this year. Last Thursday, he was able to display his wares for a nationwide audience on Thanksgiving against the Eagles. He did not disappoint.
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Not only was Ansah dominant as a pass rusher, notching 3.5 sacks, he also exhibited just how far he has come. He isn't just dominant as an individual rusher, he's also gotten pretty damn adept at running pass rush games as well. His big day was enough to propel him into second place in the league with 11.5 sacks on the year.
Let's take a quick tour of the diversity of moves Ansah employed to get to the quarterback on Thanksgiving.
On Philly's third offensive play from scrimmage it lined up facing a third-and-2 from its own 28-yard line. I know Eagles left tackle Jason Peters was banged up.
I know this.
But Ansah straight smoked his ass around the edge with a quick window wiper move to a speed rip, all in one fluid motion. I've seen very few pass rushers beat Peters around the corner that way, regardless of health. Unfortunately for Ansah and the Lions, Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez scrambled up in the pocket to get away from Ansah and ended up gaining five yards to keep the drive going.
Keep in mind that Ansah is every bit of 6'5 and almost 280 pounds, but he has a burst like a damn sprinter. That speed rush was a clear sign of his maturation as a rusher because he finally understands that although he is big and strong enough to bull rush, he is also athletic enough to win with some finesse moves as well.
Ansah's first sack of the day, which also came in the first quarter, was a testament to his improvement in his attention to detail with his moves. For instance, he lines up with either hand down on the ground when rushing from the right side. I'm sure most people figure its no big deal, but the thing is that most pass rush moves, even bull rushes at times, are somewhat like learning dance steps. There is an optimal number of steps up field for damn near every pass rush move known to man.
For a defensive end who wants to make a quick rip move inside, the ideal number of steps is usually two. The reason being if you only take one step upfield you usually can't get the tackle to bail out enough to open up a gap for you to slide through on a good inside move. That scene usually ends up with the tackle slamming down on the move immediately and the pass rusher getting stuck on the block without many ways to free himself. If you take three steps, however, that usually takes you too close to the tackle, allowing him to get his hands on you. If that happens, your inside move probably isn't going to win unless that tackle is just turrible.
The trick to using the two-step inside move is that you need to have your inside hand on the ground and your inside foot back so that your second step is with your outside foot. That will enable you to plant and push off of that outside foot and spring board yourself inside the blocker in a hurry. That's exactly why Ansah had his left hand down and left foot back on that play, and it worked, at least in part, because of that. That was just the first part of the move, however.
The second part involved sinking in a good rip move and pushing back against pressure as Eagles starting right tackle/backup left tackle Lane Johnson, who moved over in relief of Peters after he left the game, tried to wash him down inside. By staying low and meeting pressure with pressure Ansah was able to stay on a path right to the quarterback.
When I say textbook, that shit was textbook!
All that was left after Ansah finished the rip, which freed himself from Johnson, was to get Sanchez on the ground. That feat looked to be in doubt for a few milliseconds as the QB tried to escape Ansah's grasp, but was ultimately accomplished because of Ansah's relentless hold on Sanchez's foot.
On his second sack, Ansah switched sides and lined up as the left defensive end. This was a little more than halfway through the second quarter with Philly facing a third-and-10 at its own 20-yard line.
If you have been reading me for awhile or following me on Twitter, you know I talk a lot about pass rush games. Usually I'm cussing when the subject comes up because my beloved Buccaneers tend to inexplicably do a shitty job of running them. In all that cussing, you will probably remember me talking about "TEX" games. That's where the defensive end gets up field to make the offensive tackle bail while the defensive tackle inside of him rips the guard's outside shoulder then penetrates in B gap, trying to get his hands on the offensive tackle's back. Once the defensive tackle gets to the offensive tackle's back, that's about the time the defensive end loops inside behind the defensive tackle to the A gap.
If it works correctly the defensive tackle is able to beat the offensive tackle before he can turn back and block him. He becomes the contain guy and has a shot to sack the quarterback if he doesn't step up in the pocket. If he does step up in the pocket, then the defensive end looping inside to the A gap should have a shot at taking down the quarterback. As long as the center doesn't slide their direction -- and sometimes even if he does -- the quarterback should be caught in their cross hairs.
A TEX game is exactly what Ansah and his teammate, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, ran on Eagles right tackle Dennis Kelly and right guard Matt Tobin for that sack. It's also where we once again got a glimpse of Ansah's attention to detail.
Philly lined up tight end Brent Celek to that side looking to chip Ansah after he got up field. Had Ansah allowed that to happen, it probably would have ruined any chance of the TEX game working. Instead, Ansah only took two steps upfield, which prevented 87 from getting a hit on him.
That also meant that Ngata was not going to have much of a chance of getting to the back of Kelly, who ended up not having to bail out because Ansah went inside so fast. However, Ansah took matters into his own hands by dipping and ripping right through Tobin's inside shoulder as he looped inside, going through his inside arm like a hot knife through butter. Ansah could've been lazy and stayed up high or not use his rip. He likely wouldn't have come close to Sanchez if that were the case. By doing the little things, he prevented Tobin from having any shot at preventing him from getting to the quarterback.
Once again Sanchez refused to go down easy. Once again Ansah refused to let go of Sanchez's foot.
Ansah's third sack actually got me crunk watching it on film for several different reasons. First off, I just fucking loooove the long arm as a pass rush move, and for a couple of years now, I've thought that if Ansah starts perfecting that move, he might be damn near unstoppable.
For the uninitiated, a long arm is a move where the pass rusher fully extends his inside arm and tries to place it right down in the middle of the offensive tackle's chest. Here's the best part, it can be a power move or a finesse move. You can either press the offensive tackle back a few steps before escaping off the block by swatting his outside hand with your outside hand and finishing with a rip (power move). Or, if you already have the offensive tackle sitting down for power, you can place that hand on his chest just long enough for the offensive tackle to stop his feet bracing for pressure, then do the same aforementioned escape move to get off the block before he can get his feet moving again (finesse move). With a guy like Ansah, who is strong, athletic and has pretty long arms, that move can give just about any offensive tackle fits.
With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter Ansah, again at right defensive end, elected to go with the finesse version of a long arm on Johnson. It worked to perfection.
When Ansah extended his inside arm, Johnson stopped his feet and shot his hands at him expecting power. Ansah swatted Johnson's left forearm with his right hand, transitioned to a rip move and turned a tight enough corner to reach out and swat the ball out of Sanchez's hand just before his teammates, Ngata and defensive end Devin Taylor, also made contact with Sanchez. Ngata straight up splattered him, but the ball was already out.
And who jumped up and pounced on it?
That's right, Ziggy Ansah.
That's what we call the trifecta folks: sack, caused fumble and a fumble recovery. Three big plays on one snap.
Mind you the score was already 31-7 Lions at that point. That turnover led to yet another Detroit touchdown on the ensuing drive.
(Sidenote: I thought Ansah "bowling" the football then doing the turkey moves was pretty genius, but isn't there a rule against using the ball as a prop during a celebration?)
Ansah's fourth sack, or should I say half sack, came on the first play of the fourth quarter. Once again this sack came down to Ansah being on the details.
One thing I hate to see is edge rushers bull rushing down the middle of an offensive tackle when they know a blitz is coming inside of them. That is the quickest way to let a quarterback get away from the blitzers and out of the pocket where he is free to torch your secondary. I can't say why guys do it, but I can promise you that a lot of them do. I see it happen every single weekend and it makes my head hurt each time.
Lined up again at right defensive end, Ansah knew he had a blitz coming from the other side of the center. At the same time, Johnson was setting kind of soft, so if Ansah just ran up field, he risked going too far behind the quarterback. Instead, he came off the ball on the snap and bull rushed the outside edge of Johnson, knocking him back but staying on the outside half of his body. Sanchez couldn't break contain.
Predictably both the blitzer, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, and the left defensive end (Taylor) came free to Sanchez's right. Because Ansah had compressed the pocket while staying on an edge when Sanchez tried to duck away from that pressure to his right, he ended up ducking into Ansah and Taylor's arms on his left.
That was probably Ansah's easiest sack (or half a sack, rather) of the day, but it was still impressive in that it showed his understanding of the situation and how he was able to take advantage of it.