Ziggy Ansah Re-Emerges, Adds Firepower to Seahawks' Pass Rush
Every NFL game is littered with story lines and for the Seahawks in Week 12, the resurgence of two of the team’s most disappointing players proved crucial to grinding out a 17-9 road victory over the Eagles on Sunday.
As Russell Wilson battled fierce winds that negatively impacted both quarterbacks at Lincoln Financial Field, running back Rashaad Penny took off his invisible cloak and rushed for a career-best 129 yards. Showcasing elite speed, he broke three runs of 20 or more yards, including a game-sealing 58-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
But Penny wasn’t the only struggling player to break out of his slump in timely fashion against Philadelphia. With Jadeveon Clowney sidelined by a sports hernia-related injury and Jarran Reed exiting in the first half with an ankle sprain, Ziggy Ansah finally awakened from his state of hibernation, providing a much-needed jolt to Seattle’s pass rush.
“He's the strongest he's been, he's the heaviest he's been right now,” coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “He's been working really hard alongside and beyond what the other guys are doing to make sure that he's getting better as the season comes down to the stretch here.”
After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Ansah couldn’t lift weights for several months. Once he was cleared to return to football activities in August, he returned at well below his typical 270-pound playing weight and has been working overtime trying to regain muscle.
On the field, the lack of strength has been apparent for the two-time Pro Bowler, as Ansah hasn’t held up as well physically at the point of attack and struggled disengaging from blocks. Through seven games, he’d only recorded 10 tackles, three quarterback hits, and a sack, looking like a shell of his former self.
Coming off a bye, however, Carroll said the veteran rusher enjoyed a great week of practice and those improvements translated to the game field on Sunday.
“He had a really good week. I think he also knew that with J.D. [Clowney] not out there we needed him to come through. And I just think that he just was available for it.”
Dominating against both of the Eagles beleaguered tackles, including a potential future Hall of Famer in Jason Peters, Ansah constantly collapsed the pocket with power off the edge. Despite playing only 37 out of 76 snaps, he finished with a season-high 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and a forced fumble.
In his signature play of the game late in the first half, Ansah shot out of his three-point stance initially rushing upfield. Transitioning speed into power after failing to turn the corner, he aggressively lowered his left shoulder into Peters and barreled over the blocker, knocking him to the ground before devouring Wentz for the sack.
Ansah also recorded another strip sack early in the second quarter, but it was nullified when cornerback Shaquill Griffin was flagged for defensive holding in the secondary.
Sharing his observations after watching film, Carroll assessed on Monday that the 30-year old defender stepped up his game from an aggressiveness and physicality standpoint, reiterating Ansah was the heaviest he’s been since the team signed him.
“He’s always played with really good effort. He was more aggressive and physical. He was able to breakthrough some protection, was on the quarterback,” Carroll stated, referencing Ansah’s lost sack as well. “He was just more effective in all ways, but he was more stout. It just looks like he was just at a better level of the physical side of things. It was great to see.”
With the statuses of Clowney and Reed up in the air heading into a Monday night showdown with Minnesota, Ansah’s renaissance will need to last more than one week. For Seattle to be equipped for a deep playoff run, they’ll need him playing at his best to add teeth to the team’s pass rush, preferably forming a two-headed monster with Clowney.
But after seeing substantial progress from Ansah over the past three weeks, Carroll has no doubt he’ll keep adding muscle and getting stronger for the final stretch run. Now north of 260 pounds, he’s rounding into form, a great sign for the Seahawks with five games left to play.
“I’m glad to say that it’s going to keep going. We’re not going to back off on that. We’re just going to keep helping him, we have a lot of time here. There’s another month left of the regular season and hopefully more. He can keep improving.”