Five things to watch as Lions face Titans

The Detroit Lions run defense will face one of its biggest tests when Detroit (5-8) plays at the TennesseeTitans (9-4) on Sunday.

Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the NFL in rushing and is a big reason the Titans have won three of their last four and sit atop the AFC South.

The Lions in their third game under interim coach Darrell Bevell look to bounce back after a home loss to the Packers.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford didn’t practice until Friday and then it was on a limited basis. He is questionable to play due a rib injury that occurred late in Sunday’s game. He’s tough and if he can throw the ball and feel comfortable, expect to see him in the lineup. He said on Wednesday that he is not counting himself out. If he can’t go, backup Chase Daniel will be prepared after taking most of the snaps in practice throughout the week.

2. Center Frank Ragnow has been ruled out with damaged vocal cords. It’s uncertain who will start in his place. The center took a hit in the throat area which damaged his vocal chords on Sunday. The Lions are one banged up team. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay remains out while defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand has been placed on injured reserve along with Jeff Okudah. Cornerback Daryl Roberts is out. Defensive tackle John Pensini is questionable. 

3. The Lions’ defense is ranked 29th in the NFL against the run, allowing 132.8 rushing yards per game. The Titans have the second-best ground game (157.8 yards per game). Something’s got to give. Stopping Henry will be a huge test. “Critical that we start fast (on defense) in the run game, and then if we can get a ball off of (Henry), or if we can get an interception and kind of create a spark there early in the game, that will help us,’’ defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. “You don’t want to get down early, because you’re just letting them do what they want to do, and that’s just (to) continue to run it and wear you out. Really, really good challenge.”

4. While the Titans’ offense revolves around Henry it’s not a one-man band. “Derrick Henry is the leader and that’s how they want to build the thing, and kind of the same thing that I’ve been preaching here is, when you have a solid run game in the way that they’re able to use him, it really opens up the explosions in the pass game in terms of play action and that kind of thing,’’ Bevell said. “Ryan Tannehill has done a great job for them. I know I said it, but Comeback Player of the Year and he’s still playing like that. A lot of weapons over there, and they can be explosive. Some of those explosives also come in the run game with those big, long runs by Henry as well.”

5. The Lions have about a 1-percent chance to make the playoffs and Bevell will take that. “So you’re saying there’s a chance, right? That’s why we play these games. We’re going to get them playing, and just like I said when I started this thing, this is an opportunity for all of us,’’ Bevell said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us, whether it’s going to be on this team, whether it’s another team – people are watching. They want to see how the Detroit Lions are going to be acting: if they’re just going to throw in the towel or if they’re going to keep fighting. If I have anything to say about it or these players do, we’re going to keep fighting – and 1 percent (chance to make the playoffs)? We’ll take it. I don’t even know if that’s right, but we’ll take it.”

PREDICTION: Titans 28, Lions 17

Lions C Frank Ragnow fractures throat, doesn’t miss a snap against Packers

Want to talk toughness? Frank Ragnow, the Detroit Lions center, fractured his throat early in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay and finished the game.

The NFL Network first reported the injury on Wednesday, saying it occurred in the first quarter.

“I knew something was going on, but pretty crazy that he was able to finish the game with that,’’ said quarterback Matthew Stafford who didn’t finish the game due to injured ribs.

“He came up to me early in the game and was very hoarse and kind of feint sounding. (He said) I can’t really talk just to let you know. Just make sure you’re communicating with everybody up front even more so than I normally would,’’ Stafford said. “It was kind of crazy but it was good. We didn’t have any communication issues the rest of the game.’’

According to the Free Press, Ragnow is able to breathe and eat with the injury.

Even with the fractured throat he didn’t allow a quarterback hit. He played all 67 offensive snaps and four on special teams.

“He’s played awesome, he’s played fantastic. Ultra physical in the run game and does a really nice job in the pass game as well just clearing up a bunch of stuff,’’ Stafford said. “When he gets one-on-one he plays at a high level so we’re lucky to have him. He’s a young player who’s got a ton of talent, a ton of ability, the right head on his shoulders and works extremely hard and leads those guys really well.’’

Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey also noted Ragnow’s toughness.

“The guy goes out there, he’s beat up, he plays center. You watch some of the plays he’s getting hit, he’s getting just blasted almost every play,’’ Caskey said. “The guy plays through a lot, the amount of things we put on his plate from week to week, he’s a very valuable piece of this puzzle.’’

“Love him as a teammate,’’ Stafford said. “Obviously he’ll play through a bunch.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

Five reasons the Detroit Lions will draft cornerback Jeff Okudah at third overall

Lions GM Bob Quinn has pulled a few surprises in his first four drafts with the Detroit Lions.

He opted for tight end T.J. Hockenson a year ago who was not a popular mock draft pick for the eighth overall pick. In 2018 offensive tackle Frank Ragnow was his top pick at 20th overall. In 2017, he drafted Jarrad Davis at 21st overall and in his first-ever draft in Detroit Taylor Decker got the nod with the 16th pick.

So what does Quinn have planned for this draft which starts at 8 p.m. on Thursday?

Good question. He has never drafted this high — the Lions own the No. 3 overall pick, along with eight other picks.

Cornerback Jeff Okudah seems to be the popular pick for the Lions in the first round. That doesn’t mean Quinn will necessarily draft him, but he certainly looks like the top contender in that spot.

Here are five reasons the Lions will draft Okudah:

1. The cornerback has the ideal size — he’s 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds — and the Ohio State credentials. He is set to become the 14th Buckeyes’ cornerback to be drafted in the first round since 1991. He’s also got speed. Scouts say he’s exceptionally quick and can close in on the ball. Face it, the kid has it all.

2. Quinn wants an impact player with that third overall pick. “We have enough guidance in that range that we think we can do that. … Our goal is to get impactful players throughout the draft, whether they’re starters in the middle rounds or just backup and role players and special teams players later in the draft. Our goals haven’t changed, the circumstances have obviously,’’ Quinn said in his pre-draft press conference via Zoom.

3. With the trade of Darius Slay to the Eagles, the Lions have a big need at cornerback. They signed free agent corners Desmond Trufant and Tony McRae. Trufant is not a match for Slay one-on-one. 

4. It’s not common to draft a cornerback early. In the past 19 drafts only five cornerbacks have been drafted in the top five. Quinn said he had no problem with doing so (he wasn’t talking about a specific player) if the prospect was worth the pick. “If we go back to free agency a year ago, we signed Justin Coleman to play nickel and we paid him like a starter because we feel like you need three starting level corners to have a productive defense. So, why teams have shied away, I can’t really answer that. You have to ask the teams that have passed. I’ve never been this high in the draft to experience that,’’ Quinn said. 

5. Okudah is the top of the deep class at cornerback. CBSSports.com says, “(He’s) the best coverage CB in this class and it’s not even close.’’ If Quinn doesn’t grab him with the third overall pick, he’ll have a chance to draft corners later in the draft. But Okudah is a game-changer and could step in right away. Remember Slay only started four of 13 games he played in his rookie season. He wasn’t Big-Play Slay out of the gate, but turned into one of the best in the NFL. That’s exactly what could happen with Okudah.