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Tuesday open thread: How important is Ezekiel Ansah to the Lions defense?

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Ziggy may return this week. How big would that be for Detroit?

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have been without Ezekiel Ansah for the past two weeks because of a back injury. On Monday, the Lions listed Ansah as “limited” in their practice report, although the team didn’t practice and the report was just an estimate. Still, this represents a step in the right direction for Ansah, considering he hasn’t practiced at all in two weeks.

Regardless, the narrative surround Ansah this season is that he has been a huge disappointment and may not even be around next year. Just last week, our own Mike Payton wondered if we were seeing the last of Ansah in Detroit.

But absence makes the heart grow fonder. After another putrid performance from the Detroit Lions’ defensive line on Sunday, suddenly Ansah’s presence seems extremely important. Is this fans’ way of coping with a defense that may not have been as good as previously thought? Or is Ansah really better than many were giving him credit for over the first half of the season?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

How important is Ezekiel Ansah to the success of this Lions defense?

My answer: Pretty darn important. While many of us—myself included—are guilty of getting a little too obsessed with sack numbers, being an NFL defensive end is about so much more than that. Jim Caldwell tried to warn us about this a couple weeks back when addressing Ansah’s supposed decline in play this year.

“He’s doing a great job setting the edge,” Caldwell said. “He’s really physical in the run game. He’s making it hard for teams to get on the edge in that regard.”

After the Bears game, in which Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard were all able to consistently find the edge against overaggressive edge rushers, that sentence is haunting. Anthony Zettel and Jeremiah Valoaga were especially bad at containing the edge on Sunday, and Detroit’s run defense was obliterated because of it.

It’s hard not to think about how different that game could have looked with Ziggy in the lineup.

The being said, there are some problems Ansah’s return will not fix. Detroit has been poor at generating a pass rush all year and that’s with or without Ansah in the lineup. His return would help create a healthier rotation on the defensive line, keeping the players fresher and less tired. However, whenever Ansah returns to the lineup, I’m not expecting a huge bump in pass rush productivity.

That all being said, the Lions need Ansah right now. He may not be the superstar they were hoping for, but he’s a very clear step above his replacements, that much has been made evident over the past two weeks.

The Vikings are a team that is completely willing to run the ball, and Detroit needs all the reinforcements they can get in that aspect of the game. Getting Ansah back would be nothing short of a huge deal.

Your turn.