Welcome to round 3 in the Green Bay Packers key 2020 match up series. Again we stay in the trenches with defensive tackle Kenny Clark squaring off against Lions center Frank Ragnow. The Packers will see the division rival Detroit Lions in week 2 and again in week 14. The first battle will be at home in Green Bay and the late-season showdown in the dome in Detroit. Again, these division games may have massive impacts on the post-season structure. The Packers stole both games in 2019 so the Lions will be out for blood. The Clark vs Ragnow battle in the middle of the trenches will play key roles in their respective teams’ success.
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Kenny Clark is entering his 5th season in the NFL and will still be a surprising 24 years old during the first meeting between these teams. The 6’3″ 315 lbs man is a wrecking ball in the middle of the Green Bay defense. He has only gotten better each and every season in the NFL. As long as Clark remains healthy during his upcoming contract year, there is ample reason for him to become even more dominant. Outside of the one and only Aaron Donald, Clark is as good as any interior defensive lineman. Clark did have a few nagging injuries last season that kept him down in some games, but like years before he was hard to handle down the stretch.
Clark is a force for anyone 1-on-1 and many times requires double teams to try and neutralize him. He is strong in the run game but also is a constant threat pass rushing. Clark wins with his bull-like strength and cat-like quickness most big man cannot duplicate. Furthermore, he gets his arms into the body of interior lineman quickly and can push them back or stack and shed them as he sees fit. Clark also has a nice swim move to get would be blockers off him and freeing himself up to move upfield. His ability to read the play quickly allows him to disengage from opponents in order to make the play. At the very least, he can cause enough havoc to force the play towards his teammates.
The only real weak spots in Clark’s game is some minor injuries that have kept him from performing to his abilities. Perhaps some of that can be traced back to some overuse. The Packers have needed and kept Clark on the field a ton for a big man. A few extra snaps on the sidelines could increase Clark’s long term efficiency.
Frank Ragnow is another young and ascending player in the NFL. The 24-year-old is entering his third season and has started 31 of a possible 32 games in his career. The Lions used him as a guard his rookie year before moving him home to his natural center position year two. PFF had Ragnow as Detroit’s’ most improved player during 2019 and landed him in the elite category of centers in the NFL. He was ranked 6th among 38 qualifying centers last year. Another strong year and I see the young 6’5″ 311 lbs man climbing even higher.
Ragnow is a centerpiece to the Lions future on the offensive line along with Taylor Decker and newly acquired Halapoulivaati Vaitai from the Eagles. Ragnow cuts his teeth as a bruiser in the run game. He gets into opponents’ bodies quickly and moves them like a bulldozer. Ragnow has that throwback mentality where he plays to the whistle. He also improved as a pass proctor in 2019 and only allowed 2 sacks all season. Ragnow still is growing as a technician but he mentally tough and a leader on this squad.
Clark and Ragnow will likely be in action against each other for the majority of the two games this season. On early downs, Clark will be lining head up on Ragnow. Even when Green Bay likes to go with 2 down lineman, Clark should still see a ton of Ragnow and another lineman in double teams. There will be plenty of snaps where Ragnow will be in pass protection and Clark is pushing the pocket after Matthew Stafford. The interesting situation will be in the run game. The Lions have been putting a lot of stock and resources into building the ground attack. In this most recent rookie draft, they added two-guard prospects and then one of the top backs in D’Andre Swift to team up with current running back Kerryon Johnson. All evidence points that coach Matt Patricia wants, at the least, the ground game to be respected.
Clark Wins if:
He can use his speed strength and pass rush skills to play on the Lions line of scrimmage. If he can get into Ragnow and penetrate into the backfield, the Lions will be forced into doubling him early and often. Also, if Clark can control Ragnow in the run game and shut down would-be gaps, he alters what Detroit wants to do. Make no mistake, Clark was already going to see his fair share of doubles but if he makes it a must on all downs, it opens the door for his teammates. Clark does not need to show up a ton in the stat sheet but if he can keep Christian Kirksey and other linebackers clean to make plays, the Packers are sitting in good shape.
Ragnow Wins if:
He brings his dog-like mentality to this fight and can beat Clark to the punch. The old saying goes the low man wins and this is a key to Ragnow’s success. A gritty effort and being in the better position is the recipe for Ragnow. If he can handle Clark 1-on-1, the Lions should have some success in the running game. This also keeps the pocket clean for Stafford up the middle so he can step into throws and try to avoid the assault from the edge. Again, the Lions are going to double Clark just based on the defense the Packers run but if those doubles are more chips, they can allow one of the blockers to get to the 2nd level. If that is the case, then Detroit is in business.
Who has the Edge
Strictly looking 1-on-1, Kenny Clark should have the edge. He is an elite nose tackle in this league and against any center, I like his odds. Clark is a young player that is just hitting his prime and is only getting better. He should be able to push the pocket and force Stafford off his spot. In the run game, even if he isn’t making the tackle, he has the upper hand at clogging things up and letting his teammates make the play.
Double teams will obviously slow down is attack but that can also be a win. If Detroit has to spend extra resources all day to stop Clark that will allow other Packers to get the job done. Frank Ragnow is no slouch and is a rising center in this league but in this battle, I expect Clark to win more often than not.
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– Jesse Hall is a writer for Full Press Coverage Packers. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @hall_jhall1212 Follow @FPCoverage and Facebook. – Kyle Senra is the managing editor for Full Press Coverage Packers. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @nyama_ks Follow @FPC_Packers and Facebook.