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Ziggy Ansah having his breakout season for Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah is well on his way to his training-camp goal of double-digit sacks, but the third-year player still isn’t satisfied with his performance so far this season.

I don’t think it’s good enough yet,” he said. “I’ll be happy if we start beating (some teams).”

So far, the Lions (0-4) have yet to win four games into the season, and when they play the Cardinals (3-1) on Sunday (4:05 p.m., FOX), tallying more sacks could be difficult for Ansah as Arizona has allowed just five this season.

However, the Lions are coming off their best defensive performance of the season. After sacking Seattle’s Russell Wilson six times last Monday, including two by Ansah, there’s a chance the defense is starting to find its rhythm. Also, linebacker DeAndre Levy making his season debut should provide a boost Sunday, too.

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Ansah has undoubtedly been the Lions’ best defensive linemen this season and leads the group in tackles (15), sacks (four) and tackles for loss (three). Against the Seahawks, he forced and recovered a fumble in addition to the two sacks, and he had those key moments in limited work as a groin injury limited him to just 24 snaps.

Ansah said the Lions defense fed off the raucous crowd at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, but no matter where he’s drawing motivation, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin expected this kind of performance.

“I think he’s right along where we thought he would be,” Austin said Thursday. “I think the work he put in in the offseason and the talent he has, we kind of thought this might be the year that he would really break out, and so far, it’s been that way.”

With four sacks, Ansah is tied with Houston’s J.J. Watt for the second most in the NFL behind Denver’s DeMarcus Ware, two of the NFL’s top pass rushers in recent years. Ansah is on pace for 16 sacks, which would double his career best of eight from his rookie year in 2013, but Austin — who called Ansah “outstanding” twice — said there’s much more to Ansah’s game than his sack total.

“He is a physical guy in the run game, so he allows us to set an edge,” Austin said. “Wherever he is, on his side, the edge is usually set. And it’s set, and it’s not moving.

“He gives you pass-rush, he gives you toughness, he can stunt, he can do just about anything and that’s really — forget the numbers — that’s what he does.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is aware of what Ansah can do, too.

“He’s a monster,” Arians said on a teleconference Wednesday. “He’s learning to be one of the best in the business. You have to account for him, and especially up there (at Ford Field) in the noise and at home, he’s a handful.”

Part of Ansah’s improvement comes from his preparation in the film room. He looks at the offensive tackles he’ll face, tries to gauge release times for quarterbacks and understand the offensive schemes as a whole. Considering he played just three years of football before entering the NFL, Ansah saying he feels more comfortable now makes a lot of sense.

Of course, Ansah’s tremendous potential was a key reason the Lions drafted him fifth overall in 2013, and after the Lions hired Austin in 2014, he looked forward to working with the 6-foot-6, 279-pound Ansah.

“I thought that we had a great talent to work with, and it would be exciting if we could help him achieve his goals of being a great player,” Austin said. “And I think he’s on his way.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Ansah is making the kind of progression people expected from him because of his combination of size, strength and speed. Ansah said he’s “still a student of the game,” but so far, he’s looked like a player who should have no problem reaching his sack goal, though he doesn’t have a specific number in mind.

“I’m just trying to play as hard as I can and to be able to get to that level where I could be named among the people that have double-digit sacks,” he said.

However, being considered one of the top pass rushers in the league still wouldn’t satisfy Ansah. And because the Lions are 0-4, he thinks he has to be better.

“It doesn’t matter how many sacks I get at the end of the year,” he said. “As long as I’m able to help my team win, I’ll be happy.”

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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