I’m still soaking in the reality of where the Detroit Lions are right now — NFC North champions, 14-5 (and counting), and on their way to the NFC Championship game. Imagine hearing that when the Lions were 0-10-1 just a shade over two years ago, or telling that to your past self after the Lions took down the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. It’s surreal, and this weekend’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was yet another triumph for the Detroit Lions. Here are your movers for the week:
Stock up: Frank Ragnow, C
Frank the tank strikes again. Just a week after Penei Sewell proved to us exactly why he deserved his All-Pro honors, Ragnow (second-team All-Pro) did the same. Ragnow was holding his own against Vita Vea and the Bucs defensive line early. However, Jared Goff would get sacked right into Ragnow’s knee, twisting everything between Ragnow’s ankle and thigh in the process. Somehow, the man barely saw the sideline, returning to the game almost immediately to anchor the interior for the remainder of the night. It meant a lot to Ragnow, who was featured in NBC’s postgame interview, and it meant a lot to his teammates, too:
Lions LT Taylor Decker getting emotional talking about C Frank Ragnow will melt your cold damn heart pic.twitter.com/3SKyufLM5T— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) January 22, 2024
This isn’t the first time Ragnow has pulled off the impossible. Heck, it’s not even the first time this season. Ragnow came back earlier this season to start just a week after having meniscus surgery.
If you’re as impressed as I am with this, you can follow former Lion Tyrell Crosby’s suggestion and donate to Frank Ragnow’s charity:
Dear city of Detroit, you see how hard Frank is pushing through. Go show his foundation some love https://t.co/eZyTCHSmOS— Tyrell Crosby (@Tyrellcrosby) January 21, 2024
Stock up: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S
Stats: 1 tackle, 1 pass defense, 1 interception
We didn’t see a ton of CJGJ on Sunday, but when he was present, he made it known. After exchanging trash talk with Bucs QB Baker Mayfield throughout the week, all eyes were on who would get the better of the other on Sunday. We got our verdict on the very first drive, with Gardner-Johnson getting an interception and flipping the ball to Mayfield after the return. It was moreso luck on Gardner-Johnson’s part that the ball was tipped his way, but his attitude told us all we needed to know about who won this matchup.
Stock up: Aaron Glenn, DC
We often take this Lions offense for granted, but we also often give the defense more flak than necessary. Sunday, both units came up huge, and it was often the defense that put the offense in a position to succeed. The Bucs offense ended their day the same way they started it: with an interception. Somewhere in between, the Lions defense found their way to four sacks, including 2.5 from the safety blitzes Aaron Glenn has so masterfully crafted over the past two months.
Admittedly, there are still some lingering questions about some of Glenn’s personnel decisions—namely, using Jack Campbell predominantly as an edge rush Sunday. Perhaps that was intentionally designed to provide more linebacker support against the rush on potential rushing downs, but it typically caught my eye when I’d see 46 getting stonewalled outside the pocket, so my interpretation may be biased.
Regardless, Glenn’s carefully crafted and his continued creativity to make the most of the defense’s strengths are what stood out Sunday night, and it was a net positive for the Lions DC.
Stock down: Kayode Awosike, G
It was a rough outing for Awosika, who stepped in after Jonah Jackson was ruled out with a knee injury. The Bucs have one of the NFL’s premier interior defensive lines, so it wasn’t an easy ask for Awosika. However, the outcome was not a pretty one:
Lions backup left guard Kayode Awosika allowed a team-high 7 pressures on 28 pass blocking snaps (25.0%) after Jonah Jackson left the game in the 2nd quarter (0 pressures on 18 pass blocking snaps).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 21, 2024
Vita Vea generated 4 pressures in 5 matchups vs Awosika.#TBvsDET | #AllGrit
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of performance from Awosika this season, and seeing it again in the playoffs has to remind Brad Holmes that another reserve interior lineman is near the top of the needs list this offseason. It should also emphasize Jackson’s importance to the team, as he stares down free agency.
Stock up: Derrick Barnes, LB
Stats: 4 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 interception
It wasn’t a smooth start to the night for Barnes. The success of Rachaad White on the ground set up the Bucs with a lot of second- and third-and-mediums, opening up the Bucs playbook to both runs and passes. With the defensive line struggling to stop the run, Barnes came in for run support on many of those later downs, but the Bucs introduced the city of Detroit to TE Cade Otton. Often times, that left Barnes in coverage on Otton, and that’s just not a fair matchup.
Well, you know the saying: Fool me five times, shame on you. Fool me a sixth time, interception. When it mattered most, with the game on the line, Barnes came up with what may be the most impressive pass defense rep of his career:
For that, any prior sins in pass coverage are forgiven. Barnes came up huge, doing something far from his strengths as a linebacker, to seal a playoff win for the Lions. What a play for him.
Stock up: Alex Anzalone, LB
Stats: 6 tackles
Anzalone has quietly put together one of the most impressive linebacker seasons, and he put on another masterclass Sunday. Anzalone’s stat line from the divisional round won’t raise any eyebrows, but the tape shows a different story.
The Lions’ defensive line was getting plastered in the run game early and often, leaving White with free lanes to the second level of the defense, often while running at full speed. Several times, Anzalone absorbed White at full speed and stopped him in his tracks, leading to second- and third-and-mediums instead of short downs or even first downs.
It was a thankless performance from Anzalone, as the narrative around his performance will focus on how permeable the Lions defensive line was in run defense. However, it was an absolutely crucial one from Anzalone that allowed the Lions defense to hold their ground early on.
Stock neutral: Jack Fox, P
Stats: 5 punts, 43.6 yards per punt, 3 punts inside the 20
It was another stellar outing for Jack Fox, who has really come alive in the last month. The box score has Fox with three punts inside the 20-yard line, but Fox’s first punt of the day (arguably his most impressive one) pinned the Bucs right on their own 20 and was all net yardage, an impressive feat considering where Fox was punting from.
His precision was key in keeping the Bucs offense backed up Sunday night, and he continues to be the Lions’ secret weapon.
Stock up: Craig Reynolds, RB
Stats: 1 rush, 1 yard, 1 TD
Reynolds had just a single touch Sunday night, but the magnitude of the moment spoke volumes about how much trust this coaching staff has in Reynolds. It’s fourth-and-goal, with Vita Vea filling the 36 inches between the line of scrimmage and the end zone, in the biggest game this franchise has seen in 30 years. The Lions put the ball not in the hands of David Montgomery, not Jahmyr Gibbs, but Craig freaking Reynolds — a guy with just a singular career touchdown in the NFL.
Props to Reynolds, who weaved his way around Vea, who was in the midst of mauling Frank Ragnow, to secure the touchdown. What a moment.
Sam LaPorta, TE: It was the Sam LaPorta show early and often Sunday, as Jared Goff found his footing for the night and had the offense in a groove. LaPorta finished the night with nine catches for 65 yards; doing so just two weeks after getting his knee bent into a bow is nothing short of miraculous.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB: The Lions continue to use JRM as a change-up LB on passing downs and he’s continuing to live up to the lofty expectations. Sunday, JRM had a beautiful open-field tackle to stop Bucs RB Chase Edmonds on third down. It wouldn’t matter, since the Bucs were flagged for offensive pass interference, but a stellar play from JRM nonetheless.
Jared Goff, QB: Another sharp day from Goff barring a singular play (the dropped would-be-interception in the red zone). However, Goff is getting good marks here not for his passing, but for his rushing. For the first time all year, we saw him take open lanes when he had them, and it made a huge difference in keeping the chains moving.