Defensive end Ziggy Ansah recorded three sacks, five quarterback hits, four tackles and three tackles for loss in the final game of the 2017 season, a victory over the Green Bay Packers. It was a dominating performance.
A lot has happened since then. The Detroit Lions have a new head coach and a new defensive scheme Ansah is trying to learn. He was designated with the franchise tag, and is playing the 2018 season on that one-year tag. Ansah spent most of the offseason rehabbing from lingering injuries, and has only been off the PUP list for two weeks.
Friday night vs. the New York Giants, in the team's second preseason game of the year, Ansah hit the field for the first time since last season. He showed some good things, particularly in the run game.
We talk so much about the pass rush from Ansah, that we sometimes forget how good he's been defending the run, and how the Lions have missed that part of his game when he's been out.
View the best stylized photos from the Detroit Lions' preseason game against the New York Giants courtesy of team photographer Gavin Smith.
Ansah didn't record a sack in his 17 snaps (10 of those rushing the passer) against the Giants, but he did set the edge nicely in the run game. He recorded two tackles sliding down the line and getting to ball carriers. Only linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Tavon Wilson recorded a higher run defense grade from Pro Football Focus against the Giants than Ansah did.
"That was definitely something I wanted to see last night," head coach Matt Patricia said in a conference call Saturday of Ansah's ability to play the run. "Trying to put him into some of those situations maybe a little bit outside of what everyone is expected to be in."
The plan has always been for Ansah to be a versatile piece to this defense. We've seen him line up in camp anywhere from out wide to the three technique and using a four-point stance or a three-point and even standing up in a two-point.
His athleticism and explosiveness make him an important part of Detroit's pass rush, but he's just as important to the run defense too.
There's only one season in Ansah's five-year career he hasn't been given a positive grade for the year by PFF against the run. That was his injury-plagued 2016 season.
Ansah is still kicking some of the rust off after joining the team on the practice field just two weeks ago. In his first game action since last December, it was good to see him make a few plays. The Lions hope that will continue next week in the third preseason game, which is typically the regular-season tune-up for most teams.
"I thought he did a good job in those situations where he had enough knockback was able to come slide down and be in on those run plays and use his length well," Patricia said. "He did play with good leverage, so that was a good thing to see on tape."