Ziggy Ansah turns it loose; Lions reap rewards

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — On Ziggy Ansah's first sack last weekend against the Vikings, he took a few steps off the line and forced left tackle Matt Kalil's hands down. He used his speed and agility to run around Kalil, then stretched his right arm around quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to force a fumble.

Defensive end George Johnson said Ansah has been working on that move. If he can win with his hands, he typically can win with his legs, and Johnson said he expects that move to continue to be destructive to offensive linemen.

Ansah, though, didn't see anything special about the play.

"I was just playing," he said Thursday. "I wasn't thinking. I was trying to do whatever I could to get to the quarterback, and that's what I did."

And he kept doing it, finishing with a career highs of 2½ sacks and three tackles for loss, all of which earned him NFC defensive player of the week honors.

Ansah's point about not thinking on his first sack applies to his entire game, attributing his early success — 21 tackles, five for loss and 3½ sacks — to playing more instinctively.

"One thing I'll say is I feel more comfortable this year than I did last year," said Ansah, who led all rookies with eight sacks. "Just going 100 miles per hour, whether it be a mistake or not. Just play as hard as you can. That's what I try to do."

As a rookie, Ansah said he'd often worry about making a mistake and the yelling from his coaches that might follow.

"This year I just let it loose," he said.

Ansah's performance last weekend also earned praise from his teammates and coach Jim Caldwell, who called it an "incredible performance."

The coaches have played a key role in his early success after playing three years of football before being drafted. Defensive end Jason Jones said the Lions retaining defensive line coaches Kris Kocurek and Jim Washburn this year was pivotal for Ansah's development.

"He probably was a bit more of a bull rusher when we saw him, more of a guy that would try to overpower you," Caldwell said. "I think his repertoire has changed just a little bit. He's added a few to it because now he can beat you a number of different ways.

"Probably when we saw him, his experience level was such where he was probably still thinking a little bit about what was going on around him and how to best attack it. He doesn't do much thinking right now. He can react and quickly."

First-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said he saw Ansah's potential on tape — a 6-foot-6, 278-pound player who can run a 4.63-second 40-yard dash generally jumps off the screen. With Ansah recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Austin didn't have a chance to see him on the field until August.

"I know there were a lot of questions in the offseason about how is he going to catch up and all that other stuff, and I think he's answered those," Austin said.

On Sunday, Ansah will spend most of his time against Saints left tackle Terron Armstead, who hasn't allowed a sack this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Quarterback Drew Brees has only been sacked four times in five games.

"He's an elite quarterback; we all know that," Ansah said. "But it's not about him; it's about what we're going to do, and that is our focus. We are just going to do what we do every Sunday, and we'll definitely get him down."

Saints at Lions

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Records: Saints 2-3, Lions 4-2

Line: Lions by 3

Series: Saints lead 12-9-1 (New Orleans 45-28, Jan. 7, 2012)

Did you know? Despite a losing record, Saints quarterback Drew Brees ranks in the top 10 of every category except yards per attempt and touchdowns.