When the Seattle Seahawks traded Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs in the spring, the immediate question became how the team would replace him on the defensive front. First the team drafted L.J. Collier, who was slowed during training camp by a unique foot injury, and then later signed free agent Ziggy Ansah, formerly of the Detroit Lions.
Ansah, just two seasons removed from a 12 sack campaign in 2017, came with hopes of replacing Clark’s production without missing a beat. Even in an injury shortened 2018 season that saw him play just 146 snaps, Ansah registered 4 sacks and 7 quarterback hits, so there was certainly reason for optimism. However, over the past year it appears that just as he turned 30, father time showed up to steal his speed and burst.
Following the article from our own Kenneth Arthur on Monday regarding the Hawks pathetic pass rush, I sat down to watch the tape of Ansah against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to see what, if anything, fans should expect from him going forward. The answer, as it turns out, is probably not much.
It didn’t take long to see an edge rusher who has lost his burst off the edge. The loss of that explosiveness means there’s not much power or threat to offensive linemen, and even average offensive tackles are able to neutralize him pretty effectively. Of the 70 tackles across the NFL who have played at least 200 snaps this season, Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith has allowed the 18th most pressures, and he comes in just below the median in terms of PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency for tackles. He is, effectively, an average tackle, and he made Ansah disappear.
Here are a handful of plays for Ansah during the first half where he simply does little to nothing as a pass rusher.
Assorted pass rush snaps for Ansah versus Tampa pic.twitter.com/5LWr7jrT7h— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 5, 2019
On most of those plays Jameis Winston gets rid of the ball pretty quickly, which doesn’t give the pass rush time to get home. However, it doesn’t seem to matter because Ansah doesn’t even pose a threat on the scramble play where Winston takes 5.6 seconds to throw the ball, and that’s the play I want to use to highlight something specific.
Ansah’s burst and speed are gone.
This one is the alarming one. He looks like he's running in mud as he's chasing Winston and Winston rather easily creates distance between the two. pic.twitter.com/oEWUY1araV— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 5, 2019
In fairness to Ansah, he suffered an ankle injury against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, and that could be causing him to look slower now than he normally would be. So, I went back and watched him in the Week 5 game against the Los Angeles Rams. He was likely a tiny bit quicker prior to suffering the ankle injury, however, his burst and quickness were still not what one would expect from a high end edge rusher.
In particular, one play against the Rams stood out. On it, Ansah stunts to the inside and then turns in pursuit down the field once the ball is thrown. As the play develops one can see Ansah and Poona Ford running parallel, and the two are running at nearly the same speed.
For comparison, Ansah's speed in Week 5 prior to injuring his ankle against the Browns in Week 6. pic.twitter.com/XDuCzsIDmt— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 5, 2019
Poona’s a great player, but he’s a defensive tackle who ran a 5.13 forty, with a 1.81 ten yard split at his Pro Day for Texas in March of 2018. Now, it may seem like that’s a ridiculous speed for an NFL edge rusher to be running, but let’s take a look at another of Ziggy’s snaps against the Bucs and do some math.
Ziggy unblocked for speed measurement purposes. pic.twitter.com/sydjIGImbi— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 5, 2019
On that play Ansah lines up about four yards outside the interior of the hashmark and then from the time of the snap to when Winston delivers the pass, he moves about seven to eight yards upfield and winds up just inside the hash marks. This means that his movement from the snap until throw takes him about four yards east-west and about seven to eight yards north and south. Knowing that, the distance he traveled can be estimated using the Pythagorean theorem at between eight and nine yards, had he been moving in a straight line. Adding a little bit to that because he rushed along a curve, it’s not unreasonable to ballpark that from snap to throw he ran about ten yards.
In addition, thanks to the ability to analyze things frame by frame, we can say that it took him about 1.85 seconds to cover those ten yards. This lines up almost exactly with the speed comparison to Ford seen in Week 5, and, at least to me, indicates that the Seahawks shouldn’t expect much from Ansah over the final seven games of the season.
In addition, I’m not the only one who has noted Ansah’s lack of burst this year.
Carroll has used wide 9 alignment for his EDGE rushers, like what San Francisco is doing. It's not really a defense though.— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) November 5, 2019
Carroll tried it with Clowney, but he's suited to tighter paths. He wins tight. There's no pure speed rusher in Seattle and Ansah has lost his explosion.
Not certain there's a true LEO on this roster. Ansah from 4 years ago would be it but he looks to have lost all explosion— boomer (@Camorooni) October 5, 2019
As for the difference in Ansah’s burst over the years, here are five clips of Ansah ranging from his rookie season in 2013 all the way up to late 2018. There is zero question that the explosiveness off the line seen earlier in his career, even just last season, has greatly diminished.
Ziggy while with the Lions pic.twitter.com/qGOIRwH285— John P. Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) November 5, 2019
At this point, it appears there is a very good chance that Ansah could lose snaps to either Branden Jackson or Quinton Jefferson down the stretch because based on everything that I’ve seen so far this season, Ansah appears finished.