2. C Frank Ragnow
These numbers below for the Lions' offense with and without Ragnow on the field this season are from before the final three games of the regular season. And after he had returned from a one-game absence due to a knee injury. But they stand out, and reflect how important he is.
Ragnow is the literal center of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Smart, tough, physical and underrated as an athlete, his presence has a marked difference on how well Jared Goff is protected and how successful the Lions' ground game is. And he's been operating for basically the last two seasons with a significant toe issue that he'll likely deal with for the rest of his career. Other issues have popped up along the way to land him on the injury report (some smart people may call those other issues a kinetic chain thing related to his toe).
The strength of the Rams' defensive line is on the interior. Aaron Donald is of course a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Kobie Turner became an instant star as a rookie this year. Dan Campbell acknowledged the huge challenge for the Lions' interior offensive line.
"Disruptive. TFLs. In the pass game, quarterback pressures, sacks,” Campbell said of Turner. “If you’re going to put your attention on 99 [Donald], then we’ve got to win our one-on-one versus 91 [Turner]. It’s challenging. [Turner is] playing at a high level, he’s really coming on. The minute you try to take care of him, then Aaron is by himself and we know what he can do. Then again, I still love our matchup. I like our o-line. We’ve seen a lot of good fronts and have accepted those challenges. This will be no different. This will be a big challenge.”
The effort to keep Donald and Turner away from a generally stationary, in the pocket Goff, and keep them from disrupting runs before they can start, begins with Ragnow. Not that won't perform well, but the Lions' center has to be on top of his game with no real slip-ups on Sunday night.