“They’ve got a number of guys on that defense that have been together and so it’s evolved so much,” Campbell said. “And so, (defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’) got these things that they believe in, that they’re pretty good at: the disguises, the pressure.”
Bowles is widely considered one of the smartest defensive minds in football, and he’s got the Bucs defense ranking tied for seventh in sacks, sixth in tackles for loss, and seventh in yards per carry allowed.
Lions offensive coordinator takes pleasure in trying to figure out how to crack this defense—which sports talent at every level, like defensive tackle Vita Vea, linebacker Lavonte David, and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. But Johnson knows he’s got one key piece that will help him sleep at night.
“Really, our secret weapon is Frank Ragnow,” Johnson said. “We put a lot on his plate, both run-game and pass-game, so he does a great job getting fronts identified for the rest of the offensive line and in the protection game with the running backs and the tight ends. So, he really is a key cog in what we do and I can’t say enough good things about him.”
While Bowles has a pretty standard defensive look week-to-week, he’s also a talented enough of a defensive minid where he can develop a completely unique strategy for a weekly opponent. Just last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Buccaneers sported a rarely-used, six-man front to stop Philly’s run game and make Jalen Hurts uncomfortable.
Johnson knows that unpredictability is what makes the Bucs' defense difficult to scout, but having a seasoned player like Ragnow in charge of protections and post-snap adjustments will give them a fighting shot.
“(He’s an) experienced player that’s seen a lot of football, and even when we get unscouted looks, he can find a solution for us more times than not,” Johnson said.
In their previous matchup, the Lions struggled running the ball against Tampa, rushing for a season-low 40 yards on 22 carries. They were short on personnel that week, missing left guard Jonah Jackson and running back Jahmyr Gibbs, while David Montgomery left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury.
But the Bucs defense deserves plenty of credit. Under Bowles, they have consistently had a top-10 run defense in the league. This year, they’re allowing just 95.3 rush yards per game (fifth), including seven games where they’ve held opponents to 60 rushing yards or less.
The Lions aren’t likely to abandon the running game on Sunday, but Johnson does admit that they are comfortable with a Plan B should Tampa give them issues on the ground again.
“The good news about where we are as an offense is we can shift and we can flow, and that doesn’t shut us down entirely,” Johnson said. “If we can’t run the ball, then we have other ways to attack the defense as well.”
That’s exactly what happened in the previous matchup, as Jared Goff passed the ball 44 times against the Buccaneers, amassing 353 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
So thanks to a versatile offense—helped largely by a knowledgeable piece like Ragnow—the Lions are confident they’ll be able to move the ball against a stout Bucs defense this week.