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Film breakdown: What happened during Ziggy's sacks? (Part two)

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Is Ezekiel Ansah a pass-rushing force or is he merely a lucky guy getting "clean-up" sacks?

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For the first part, see: Film breakdown: What happened during Ziggy's sacks? (Part one)

Last time, we looked at the first seven sacks credited to Ezekiel Ansah by the league in 2015 and found a nice spin move, an open field tackle on Russell Wilson, and some great line stunts. This time we wrap up by reviewing all plays from the second half of the regular season where Ansah got to the quarterback.

ZiggySacks from the final 8 games

Sack 8: Week 11 OAK, 4Q (10:58). First-and-10 at the Oakland 21.

Not much to diagram here. Ziggy gives 72 LT Donald Penn a head and shoulder fake to the inside that Penn bites hard on. Nothing left to do after that except bring Carr to the turf.

Before we start on the three and a half sacks from the Thanksgiving roasting of the Eagles, it is important to acknowledge that Philadelphia's starting left tackle Jason Peters was questionable with a back injury and left after just ten offensive snaps when Jason Jones rolled over his leg. This forced 65 RT Lane Johnson to move over to the left side to play the rest of the way as the LT in front of Ziggy.

Sack 9: Week 12 PHI, 1Q (7:21). Third-and-9 at the Philadelphia 25.

The first sack of the day can seen about 15 seconds into the official NFL highlight video on YouTube. The video points out Peters leaving the game and Johnson taking over at left tackle only to be beaten by a fake to the outside. This is all Ziggy, reversing back inside to get 3 QB Mark Sanchez by the ankle.

For those following along who are more interested in the defensive line play and stunts than Ziggy, take note of Ngata and Jones on the play working an inside twist. It's a preview of the same kind of T-T stunt that's explained below on sack 14.5 in the Chicago game. In this case, the interior of the Eagles' offensive line switches off well and defeats the Lions' inside twist, so it's a good thing Ziggy got home for the sack.

Sack 10: Week 12 PHI, 2Q (7:41). Third-and-10 at the Philadelphia 20.

The second sack of the game came on a combination stunt by the Detroit defensive line. On the Lions' right, 91 DE Jason Jones lined up as a defensive tackle inside of 98 Devin Taylor. They executed an E-T stunt with Taylor pushing hard to the inside from a wide nine alignment and Jones looping back to the outside. Unfortunately, this stunt would be foiled by 29 HB DeMarco Murray coming out of the backfield on a delayed chip and release to the flat.

The Lions' left side had Ziggy in a 5-technique just outside the shoulder of replacement 67 RT Dennis Kelly. 92 DT Haloti Ngata from a 3-technique angled outside to draw 64 RG Matt Tobin into Kelly and open an inside rush lane. Ansah makes it to the lane, but is yanked backwards by Tobin.

It doesn't matter because Ziggy fights through the hold and sacks Sanchez for an 8-yard loss anyway. Detroit declined the penalty to bring up fourth down and the Philadelphia punt team.

Sack 11: Week 12 PHI 3Q (6:42). Third-and-6 at the Philadelphia 23.

For this one, go back to the official NFL highlight video and skip to the 1:45 point. Ziggy comes around the edge on Johnson full blast, takes the corner, and strips the ball from the quarterback. Although Ngata hit Sanchez from the front right after the strip, Ziggy truly deserves full credit here because he also leapt over to recover the ball.

Sack 11.5: Week 12 PHI 4Q (15:00). Third-and-4 at the Philadelphia 48.

Here is a good example of what might be considered a "clean-up" sack. 59 LB Tahir Whitehead and 98 DE Devin Taylor rushed hard from the frontside of the play to force Palmer backwards into Ziggy (who had bull rushed his way up the field against Johnson). This is half of a sack that pretty much fell into Ansah's lap.

The video for this is not really worth posting, but if you want to see what it looked like, it's play number 4 on Samuel Gold's analysis on nflbreakdowns.com.

Sack 12.5: Week 13 GBY, 4Q (14:20). Third-and-14 at the Green Bay 27.

The full broadcast video of the play is available on the official Detroit Lions site, so I recommend just watching it play all the way through there.

Again, the Lions show an unusual look in a critical third-down situation to throw the offense off. As Phil Simms on the broadcast audio points out, 57 LB Josh Bynes coming off the edge occupies the protection back, 30 FB John Kuhn. That leaves nobody behind the offensive line to help against the T-E stunt by Ziggy and Ngata.

Notice also the wide angle that Jason Jones in the middle of the formation takes. He is lined up angled on backup 73 C JC Tretter and rushes across his face to engage backup 65 RG Lane Taylor. This guarantees a wide interior rush lane for Ziggy by drawing the center away from the action but also ensures Taylor on the edge gets a one-on-one against backup 67 RT Don Barclay.

82 TE Richard Rogers has a short in-route which most likely would have been 12 QB Aaron Rodgers' dump off, but Whitehead dropped off from the line into the throwing lane. Lacking a viable hot read, Rodgers wisely ate the ball when Ziggy arrived.

Sack 13.5: Week 14 at STL, 2Q (14:07). Third-and-5 at the Detroit 27.

Another sack where there's not really much to analyze scheme-wise. Ziggy simply beats his man around the edge -- and then he also beats the running back. This is a dominant individual effort to force a punt on the road.

Pretty sure we can say Ansah creates pressure on his own there.

Sack 14.5: Week 17 at CHI, 2Q (0:31). First-and-10 at the Chicago 35.

Before we get to the defensive line stunt and the sack itself, I want to let everyone see what good team defense and effective on-the-field communication look like. The entire defense rotates to match-up in Cover-1 with the funky empty gun formation by Chicago.

This is the kind of thing that makes 59 MLB Tahir Whitehead as the starter in the middle look like a solid fit. I just think it's interesting how everyone is signaling to each other to make sure the called coverage accounts for all receivers. 28 CB Quandre Diggs in front of the trips side receivers motioning for someone else to come over, 27 FS Glover Quin dropping down to man up on the extra trips side WR, 32 SS James Ihedigbo coordinating with Quin to move up and replace him up high, Whitehead crossing over to man up on 88 TE Rob Housler over Ziggy and 57 LB Josh Bynes confirming the coverage with Whitehead.

Coming back to the pressure design at the line, we have a five-man rush featuring a T-T inside twist between the two defensive tackles. Ngata goes first, crossing the face of 68 C Matt Slauson to cut off 65 LG Patrick Omameh's route to stay with the looping Reid. On the far left side of the Lions' front, Taylor rushes wide and Bynes blitzes wide as well. This pulls both the RT and RG to the outside, widening the lane for Reid to turn upfield into.

Great technique here by both defensive tackles gets Reid a clear shot at 6 QB Jay Cutler. This flushes Cutler outside, but Ziggy has already pushed 72 LT Charles Leno all the way back into Cutler's dropback. Cutler ends up running right in front of Ziggy, who slides off Leno to take the QB down for a 3-yard sack. Although Ziggy did have to push his man upfield and shed the block at the end, it would be fair to say this is a "clean-up" sack caused by Reid's penetration off the pressure design.

How much was Ziggy responsible for?

Sack Number Week Opponent Quarter Notes
1 1 at SDO 2 Backside pressure helped flush QB
2 2 at MIN 2 Spin move off blocker stopped QB escape
3 4 at SEA 2 Open field pursuit sack off play action
4 4 at SEA 4 Phenomenal zone read stop in backfield (not really a sack)
5 5 ARI 1 T-E stunt sack
6 7 MIN 2 Shared sack, but Ziggy got full credit for strip fumble
7 8 at KCY 2 Not really a sack - downed already sliding QB
8 11 OAK 2 Shoulder fake fooled LT one-on-one
9 12 PHI 1 Shoulder fake fooled LT one-on-one
10 12 PHI 2 Fight through hold on T-E stunt
11 12 PHI 3 Speed rush strip sack and recovery
11.5 12 PHI 4 Totally a clean-up half-sack thanks to Taylor and Whitehead
12.5 13 GBY 4 Another T-E stunt
13.5 14 at STL 2 Beat LT and HB around the edge
14.5 17 at CHI 2 Clean-up sack off T-T stunt

Sacks 1, 2, 6, 7, 11.5, and 14.5 are the sort where you could argue Ziggy is making a mostly routine play with significant influence on the quarterback from teammates. These either involve another player chasing the QB into Ziggy or an escape lane near him. None of these are "gimme" plays except possibly sack 7 (the Alex Smith slide), but they are not as interesting and cannot be considered signs of superior pass-rushing ability.

Sacks 5, 10, and 12.5 were all sacks on pressure schemes sent in by Austin that were designed to get Ansah free. One of these three T-E stunt plays involved breaking free from a hold to complete the sack. Even without that impressive play, these sacks require sound execution and timing with teammates. These may not be outstanding individual effort plays, but they demonstrate required attributes for any good professional player: the discipline and scheme awareness to correctly carry out and finish assignments within the design of the coordinator.

Sacks 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, and 13.5 are where we get to see Ansah shine as star player. Few defensive players at any position in the league could have made the two plays against Seattle. One was an open field sack against Russell Wilson after a play action rollout (sack 3) and the other was a disruption on Wilson on a zone read play (sack 4) before it could develop. Sacks 8 and 9 showed the defeat of left tackles with excellent shoulder fakes. Sacks 11 and 13.5 had Ziggy winning around the edge with speed rushes.

This is a tremendous athlete who can win one-on-one using both moves and speed, can cleanly execute scheme pressures, and plays alert enough to jump on loose balls. Even on several of what I would consider to be more routine plays, Ziggy did something to improve the outcome by shedding blocks (sacks 2 and 14.5) or stripping the ball (sack 6).

One last bonus take

The strip sacks are something I want to come back to for a moment. Jeremy's article pointed out that Ansah's four forced fumbles were good for second-most in the league. Two of these were stripped balls on sacks, one of which he recovered. The pressure that Ziggy is bringing is elevated by a ball hawking style that has the potential to create extremely high value sacks (read: turnovers).

It's not just the strip sacks that are high value, though. Consider field position: almost a third of his sacks (four) came when the opponent was in field goal range. Looking back through each sack's down and distance situation, we see that eight of the fifteen plays involving Ziggy sacking the quarterback came on third down. These are drive killers that generally force the opponent to punt or hold them to a field goal.

Finally, more than half of the sacks here came on four-man rush packages: the Lions do not necessarily need to blitz to get pressure when Ziggy is in the game. Sacks 6, 12.5, and 14.5 brought a fifth rusher, but the rest of them (I think) only brought four. Being able to get heat on the quarterback while dropping seven into coverage is a huge benefit for the defensive coordinator, like being able to stop the run while keeping two high safeties. In 1990, Virginia Tech's (head coach) Frank Beamer and (defensive coordinator) Michael Clark put it this way:

To pressure the QB with four people requires a great commitment and a selling job on the part of the coach. Four-man pressure involves reliance in your people, not your plan. Putting trust in your people will always pay dividends, and here is how we help them.

Getting that four-man pressure requires faith that your people will win four-on-five or four-on-six, and Ziggy is a big reason we believe it in Detroit. Any pressure that does not actually result in a sack could have benefits, but the gains from Ziggy's sacks in important situations are concrete. We do not need to put in a lot of effort to understand the benefit when the opposing punt team takes the field and gives Detroit the ball back. This is a special player with excellent pass-rushing ability whether end of season awards acknowledge it or not.