Ezekiel Ansah is a bit of a divisive figure among the Detroit Lions fan base. There are two camps, the first are those who are done with Ansah’s up and down performance. The second are those who watched Ansah record six sacks in the final two games of 2017 and want more of that. The truth of who and what Ansah will be for the next few years likely lies somewhere in the middle of that. He is far from a perfect player but he is very good. When he is on there are none better. The problem is that he has only been on for about four games in the last two years.
How Ansah Wins
Ezekiel Ansah is a finesse player. In the above clip, he begins outside the right tackle. He stunts all the way around the left tackle for the sack. He uses his length and athleticism to get past blockers and make a play. There are fewer than five pass rushers capable of doing this. He generally does a good job of hand fighting in the pass rush, he keeps most blockers from latching on to him. Ansah has elite burst off the snap and gets to full speed in a hurry. When he has reached speed, he does a great job of converting that speed to power. Ansah uses his length to keep blockers off of him and disengages using his elite lateral movement. In the three games I studied, more than one offensive tackle simply fell off balance to the ground as Ziggy uses his inside arm to knock the blocker’s outside arm down and away, keeping the blocker from engaging.
Ansah has added some wrinkles to his pass rush technique in the latter half of the season, including what looked like a tribute to Dwight Freeney in week 17 against the Packers. Ansah was praised by the Jim Schwartz coaching staff for being an absolute sponge of coachability. The addition of a new wrinkle at the end of his fifth season in the league makes me wonder if there might still be untapped ability there. Ansah will not fundamentally change who he is as a player, but there is a place for a very good speed rusher in any scheme. He is as comfortable in space as any 275 lb player in the league. While it is not an optimal use of Ansah’s skills he is capable of covering the flat.
How Ansah Loses
Finesse does not work in every situation. Ansah uses his speed to simulate power. Unfortunately, when he is forced to create power immediately off the line, he is incapable of doing so. 275 lbs sounds like a significant amount of weight, but Ansah is built more like a sprinter than a powerlifter. When an offensive lineman can keep up with Ansah’s speed and length, the battle is lost due to the power differential between the two players. While holding the point of attack, Ansah is often being pushed backward, waiting to shed the blocker and dive at the legs of a ball carrier. He has the strength to separate from the blocker and get free to make a play, but not the kind of strength to hold a spot on the field against a dedicated offensive lineman.