With five games left, Ezekiel Ansah finds himself in the thick of a sack title chase. And much like his Detroit Lions' playoff chances, his odds took a dramatic jump after Thanksgiving's demolition of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ansah's 3.5-sack performance against Lane Johnson catapulted Ansah into a tie at the top of the heap with J.J. Watt at 11.5. But after the latter's two sacks of Drew Brees Sunday, the former will have to make up that margin in the last five games to finish as the season sacks king.
Detroit's 2013 first-rounder has ramped up his production in his first season as the main source of defensive destruction. This qualifies as a career year for Ansah, and we're only about two-thirds of the way through the season.
|NFL's Sack Leaders|
|1. J.J. Watt||13.5|
|2. Ezekiel Ansah||11.5|
|3. Chandler Jones||10.5|
|4. Carlos Dunlap||8.5|
|5. Justin Houston||7.5|
Ansah is almost assured of a few postseason honors via a Pro Bowl invite or an All-Pro nod. Now let's break down how close he is to adding a crown to those achievements.
Watt is the odds-on favorite not only by virtue of his lead but his incredible track record.
J.J. Watt has 70.5 sacks in 75 career games. Since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, only Reggie White has reached 70 sacks faster— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) November 29, 2015
The two-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year is well on his way to a fourth straight first=team All-Pro designation and seems to be getting better as the year has gone on, having strung together five straight games with a sack.
And three of his next five opponents find themselves in the bottom 10 for sacks allowed. With the Houston Texans in a battle with the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South, Watt will be on the field for as many plays as possible.
JJ Watt's last 5 games: 27 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 1 FF. Unblockable.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 29, 2015
The Cincinnati Bengals' Carlos Dunlap and the Kansas City Chiefs' Justin Houston round out the competition. Neither was able to make any headway Sunday, and Houston's prospects of catching the top three took a huge hit:
MRI coming Monday afternoon for Chiefs LB Justin Houston. The team is currently optimistic, but that could change.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 29, 2015
This is three-man race, and Ansah will have to overcome better blocking to come out on top.
Only one of Detroit's remaining opponents has allowed more than the Lions' 28 sacks heading into Week 12, and the St. Louis Rams have only given up 15 on the season.
That stat can be a bit misleading, though. Greg Robinson—who ranks as 40th of 57 qualifying tackles in terms of pass-blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus—will be Ansah's personal matchup for most of the Rams game.
Greg Robinson struggling again in pass protection....gotta move him back to guard....save this man's career before he's a full bust.— Rams Talk (@TalkRams) November 29, 2015
Charles Leno of the Chicago Bears has an even worse mark, allowing a pressure of some type on 7.4 percent of his pass-blocking opportunities. And the Bears threw it 41 times in their first contest with the Lions.
Weeks 15 and 16 bring about Ansah's two toughest tests: Terron Armstead and Joe Staley, respectively.
Unfortunately for Ansah, he'll likely need to finish somewhere near 20 sacks considering Watt has bested that mark twice in his four-year career. That means he can't afford to throw up any zeros in the sack column, although maybe he can use the extra motivation he had against the Philadelphia Eagles to teach the rest of the league a lesson. Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News forwarded this comment from Ansah:
Once he was matched up against Lane Johnson, Ziggy Ansah said he "took it personal." Eagles picked Johnson ahead of him in 2013.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) November 26, 2015
Watt is still the odds-on favorite. He's a proven pass-rushing dynamo who has the easier path to sacks over the next five weeks. But don't count Ansah out quite yet.
All advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.