2021 NFC North preview: How do the Detroit Lions stack up?

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press) /
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Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Chicago Bears offense

After Dalton and Fields, a combination that seems destined to disappoint Bears fans, there are some issues that need further inspection. According to Pro Football Focus’s rankings the line is the 27th-ranked unit in the NFL. Running back David Montgomery did blossom into a legitimate workhorse in 2020, though, but he was asked to literally carry the Bears offense in many games.

Let’s start back with the quarterback room, as this is the most important position on the field. Trubisky is gone, Dalton and Fields will get all of the attention but former Eagles Super Bowl hero, Nick Foles, is still there, as well.

Dalton has been crowned the starter and for Chicago fans who are new to the Dalton party, he’s always been okay-to-good, never spectacular when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. We would classify him as a low-end starter or a very good backup. The question here is, “How long does Dalton keep that job before fans and coaches just can’t justify keeping Justin Fields on the bench any longer?”

While Dalton has a career 62% completion percentage, he has 218 touchdowns in ten seasons with 126 interceptions. Last year, after taking over the Dallas Cowboys offense, he managed 2,170 yards, 14 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in nine starts with an elite receiver corps and very good line, two luxuries he will not have in the Windy City.

The mystifying draft scenario was the heir apparent Fields’ drop from being the presumptive second-best quarterback (to Trevor Lawrence) to being the fourth or fifth option for some teams, if we believe draft talk.

Draft people have also stated that the cost for Fields during the draft was inflated by the Minnesota Vikings attempting to obtain his services, along with Chicago. The Vikings eventually drafted Kellen Mond, one of the other few promising prospects in the draft.

Fields’ athletic traits, he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash according to USA Today’s Bill Rabinowitz, his arm strength, along with playing in the Big Ten conference all seemed to point to him being a Top-5 pick. Great pre-draft workouts by both BYU’s Zach Wilson and NDSU’s Trey Lance seemingly pushed Fields’ stock down despite his superior strength of opponents and gifted athleticism.

The defense is waiting for the offense to hold up their end of the deal to become playoff contenders again and the balancing act here at quarterback looks to be the tipping point.

Montgomery has Tarik Cohen back as the “lightning” to his “thunder” but the Bears also brought Damien Williams and rookie Khalil Herbert in as depth instead of having to piece a run-game together as they did in 2020 when Montgomery missed time.

At receiver, Allen Robinson is back to try to improve his standing as a top NFL wideout and will have Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, and free agent acquisition and former New England Patriots receiver, Damiere Byrd, to take pressure off of him.

The unit has been limited by quarterback play and it feels like there could be an exodus if the opportunity doesn’t improve for more than Robinson. They have talent but are behind other division wide receiver corps, with the Detroit Lions for sure having the worst group at the moment.

Robinson was the only other Bears player mentioned in the Pro Football Focus Top-50 player rankings (34th) besides edge defender Khalil Mack (6th).

At tight end, Jimmy Graham is back as the “dad”, with Cole Kmet as the No.2, and Jake Butt, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted providing the depth. Da’ Bears offense often employs multiple tight ends, making Kmet an important person to develop for their offense to create bigger plays in 2021.

The drama is along the line, as we mentioned above, though. No matter which field general they roll out, or which receivers are lined up next to them, the line has to do the job of giving the offense space or time to execute plays. Rookie standout, tackle Teven Jenkins, is the second-round selection being asked to occupy the blindside, left tackle position.

After Jenkins, guard James Daniels and center-guard Cody Whitehair appear to be two of the three starters on the interior. Elijah Wilkinson and Germaine Ifedi will duke it out for right tackle duties with Sam Mustipher most likely getting the call at center. After Daniels and Whitehair the line is very fluid, which is the opposite of what makes lines effective.

Overall, the offense doesn’t look like it could take huge steps forward unless Fields were given carte blanche to make plays with both his arm and feet, something he has always done while at Ohio State.

In the meantime, Chicago is retaining Dalton for scapegoat purposes for when they do make the switch under center, although it is way more likely to be issues with the line. They could be in line to move past the Detroit Lions to the basement if their line and quarterbacks don’t overperform or their defense has set-backs.