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Nagging ankle injury still an issue for Lions' Ansah

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
DE Ziggy Ansah - It feels unfair to grade Ansah this harshly, since his effectiveness was sapped by a lingering ankle injury. He looked closer to the dominant player from 2015 at the year of the year, but nine tackles for loss was disappointing. GRADE: D

Allen Park — Ziggy Ansah insists he's not frustrated, but the Detroit Lions defensive end is not trying to downplay the significance of having zero sacks heading into the team's 12th game.

"That’s how everybody evaluates a defensive player, how many sacks they get," Ansah said. "So yeah, it does matter. I’d be lying to you say it doesn’t matter.

"It’s not frustrating or disappointing," he said. "I know what kind of player I am and what I’m capable of doing. I just have to keep my head high and keep fighting."

Ansah hasn't been himself this year. We've seen flashes of the dominant pass rusher that racked up 14.5 sacks last season, but he's not getting the consistent pressure we've grown accustomed to seeing, and when he does beat the blocking, he's routinely been a fraction of a second too late.

On Thanksgiving, in the Lions' 16-13 win over the Vikings, Ansah appeared to have forced a fumble, crushing quarterback Sam Bradford from the blindside to dislodge the ball, which was recovered by teammate Haloti Ngata. But the turnover was overturned when video review showed Bradford's arm coming forward. Four snaps later, the Vikings were in the end zone.

"Close is not good enough," Ansah said. "I’ve got to put him down."

Ansah's biggest issue has been a nagging ankle injury. Suffered on the opening possession in Week 2, the high sprain sidelined him three weeks. And since returning to the lineup, he's been limited in practice and admits he's still dealing with pain.

"I think I’m going to deal with it all year, but I don’t think about it," Ansah said. "I don’t need any excuses for how I play."

He did acknowledge his condition has improved each week and he's hopeful it won't require surgery this offseason.

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Without Ansah producing at his normal level, the performance of Detroit's entire defensive line has sagged. The team ranks 26th with 20 sacks and it's led to defensive coordinator Teryl Austin dialing up more blitzes and opposing quarterbacks getting rid of the ball faster. That strategy has led to some of the ugly completion percentage numbers the Lions have surrendered, but it can still work as long as the team tackles well.

Bradford completed 31 of his 37 passes against the Lions, which looks awful at first glance, but when it only amounts to 224 yards and no touchdowns, you realize it's actually a quality performance by the defense.

"He can go 36 of 36, as long as they don’t throw the ball over our heads and as long as we get them off the field on third down," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "To me, the most important stat you do is at the end of the game, do you win? The way we won was we kept them out of the end zone. Those are the important things. Sure, I see the stats —hey, we’re last in this, last in that, last in that. We’re doing OK."

The Lions would be thrilled to be able to duplicate that defensive effort against the New Orleans Saints this Sunday. Quarterback Drew Brees, an MVP candidate, is completing 71.5 percent of his passes. But unlike the Vikings, who seemed incapable of throwing downfield, the Saints are tied with the Falcons for the NFL lead with 49 pass plays of 20 or more yards.

That kind of downfield production generally requires a quarterback to hold on to the ball a bit longer, creating opportunities for the opposing pass rush, but Brees has been well protected by his line. The Saints have given up 18 sacks and 47 quarterback hits through 11 games, which both rank in the top six in the league.

"Yeah, this an explosive offense and defense is going to bring it," Ansah said.

Ansah getting his first sack would be a good start.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @justin_rogers