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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Chicago Bears, Khalil Mack
Chicago Bears, Khalil Mack (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Chicago Bears defense

As stated previously, the defense now being called by first-year coordinator, Sean Desai, is the playoff-ready side of the ball. Chuck Pagano retired after failing to reproduce the magic that the 2019 Bears defense had, although they were still near the top of the league in many categories.

Pro Football Focus named edge rusher, Khalil Mack the 6th-best player in the NFL and the Bears defense runs through his and linebacker Roquan Smith’s leadership. Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, and Bilal Nichols comprise the 3-man front and are a force by themselves. Add in Mario Edwards and Angelo Blackson and Chicago should be a handful for opposing interiors all year.

Opposite the venerable Mack, Robert Quinn returns, with free agent signee Jeremiah Attaochu there to push Quinn, Trevis Gipson, and James Vaughters as the depth at edge or outside linebacker. Roquan Smith is on the precipice of being an All-Pro himself inside with skilled Danny Trevathan as his running mate. Not a lot behind them with Christian Jones coming back from his stint with the Detroit Lions and Josh Woods being the other two inside linebackers.

If there’s a weakness to this defense, it’s in the cornerbacks, who lost starter Kyle Fuller to the Denver Broncos in free agency. Jaylon Johnson is solid going into his second year but the unit has signed Desmond Trufant to man the other side and he has missed significant time along with being ineffective near the end of his tenure in Atlanta and in Detroit, his last two stops.

The Bears hope that rookie Thomas Graham, Jr. , Artie Burns, Duke Shelley, and Kindle Vildor can push for snaps or provide production if Trufant cannot find his old form. One also has to serve as the nickel for the departed Buster Skrine, which doesn’t bode well to have to replace two good players in one offseason.

At safety, Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson remain the starters, which should offer stability to the back end of the defense if the corner’s are struggling. Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, and Jordan Lucas provide better than adequate depth behind the starters.

The defense while it has a couple of question marks seems equipped to keep the Chicago Bears in games, even if the offense remains less than dynamic. They, like the Detroit Lions, need complimentary football and to keep teams out of the endzone to contend in the NFC North.

As a team the Chicago Bears continue to have the outward appearance of a .500 ballclub. While Justin Fields could elevate the offense down the road, 2021  has some road bumps for Nagy and his staff to navigate. The defense having gotten a year older and weaker at cornerback could move backwards some, while the offense is likely to wallow in the midst of a quarterback transition while trying to settle its line play.