Detroit Lions: 5 best individual defensive seasons since 2010

Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

Ziggy Ansah – 2015

Statistics: 16 games played, 14.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 34 QB hits, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries

Retrospective: There wasn’t much for the Lions to be happy about in 2015. Failing to build off of their successful 2014 season, a complacent squad scuffled to a 1-7 start, which sunk their campaign and resulted in the firings of prominent coaches and front office staff by the year’s midway point. All the while, Ezekiel Ansah was putting together an outstanding year, quickly emerging as one of the most dangerous edge rushers in the league.

Problems were everywhere on the Lions during this dreadful start – poor pass protection, shaky quarterback play, and an inept running game for starters. Yet, Ansah was arguably the best player on the team during that stretch, totaling 7.0 sacks and consistently disrupting the opposing running game as well, despite playing just over 60% of the team’s defensive snaps.

That judicious deployment of their best defensive lineman likely helped Ansah retain his explosiveness and durability all year; it would be the last time that Ansah would be fully healthy for an entire season. After missing just two games in his career by the end of 2015, he would miss a total of 14 games during his last three seasons in Detroit.

That stamina helped Ansah lay some punishing hits on a number of quarterbacks and in 2015. The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, the Minnesota Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater, and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks were all flattened by Ansah behind the line of scrimmage, with Ansah often beating double teams to reach his target.

He saved his best performance for Thanksgiving Day when he dominated the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line to the tune of 3.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble and recovery off of quarterback Mark Sanchez, all in just 30 defensive snaps. The formula was there for best using Ansah’s ability – limit the snaps, maximize the explosion. He would finish the year just 0.5 sacks away from Robert Porcher’s single-season franchise record.

Unfortunately, this would be the peak of Ansah’s play in Detroit. He would battle debilitating injuries, primarily to his ankle and shoulder, over the next three years. This would have him shuttling between the sideline and the field, and he was unable to sustain any momentum, or reach the same level of play that he did in 2015. No Lions edge defender since has come close to having the same impact Ansah did in 2015, leaving them perennially lacking in the quarterback pressure department.