The Detroit Lions run game is back. At least, it was for a week. It was fun while it lasted, just like all of the “if the offensive line can stay healthy” sentiments. That’s all gone down the wayside, with the Lions set to be without all three of their starting interior linemen Sunday. To make matters worse, it’s against one of the more stout defensive lines in the Washington Commanders.
Bold prediction of the week: Lions rush for <90 yards against the Commanders
Over the last 48 hours, the Lions have downgraded Frank Ragnow to out and Jonah Jackson to doubtful. That’s on top of Halapoulivaati Vaitai landing on IR last week, and backup guard Tommy Kraemer following suit just as Logan Stenberg struggled mightily in filling in for Vaitai.
That leaves the Lions with three backup interior linemen set to start Sunday against the Commanders. That group will likely be comprised of Drew Forbes, Evan Brown, and Logan Stenberg at left guard, center, and right guard, respectively. Any one of these guys could step in and hold their own for a game or two in the right context, but all three at once spells trouble.
Forbes was claimed by the Lions off of waivers less than two weeks ago. That means not only will the Lions start a guy who is barely sticking to a roster, but he also may not be up to speed on the Lions playbook. Next to him will be Evan Brown, arguably the best of the group based on his success in stepping in for Frank Ragnow in 2021. We’re rounded out by Logan Stenberg, whose first start against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 was an absolute rollercoaster.
The bright side of Stenberg’s Week 1 start was that he got better in the run game as the game progressed. Stenberg’s greatest flaws were in pass protection, but he’s a mauler on the ground. On the left of him, however, the Lions will miss Frank Ragnow sorely. An injured Frank Ragnow is still one of the best run blocking centers in the league, even against some of the league’s best.
Frank Ragnow made putting Jordan Davis on the ground look easy (via @BrandonThornNFL) pic.twitter.com/YctsYIeLzI— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) September 15, 2022
That leaves Brown supported on the left side by Drew Forbes. Since Forbes wasn’t around in preseason, how he performs is an absolute wild card at this point, but expectations should be low.
Washington is poised to dominate in the trenches. They have one of the best defensive lines in the league, even without star Chase Young. Players like Jonathan Allen (who is questionable to play), Montez Sweat, and Daron Payne are all dynamic linemen who have the ability to rush the passer like a pure edge but also the size to fill interior gaps in the run game.
In Week 1, we saw the Lions rush for 181 yards, including 144 from D’Andre Swift, both the highest marks we’ve seen in a long time. Philadelphia filled the trenches with five defensive linemen in the second half and significantly slowed down the Lions run game, and Washington absolutely has the personnel to do the same. Against a makeshift interior line, the Commanders will be licking their chops all day. Without the anchors of its offense, Detroit won’t be able to come close to last week’s 35-point effort, and I don’t see them reaching half of last week’s rushing mark if they fall behind down the stretch.