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The 2021 Detroit Lions are not a talented roster relative to much of the rest of the NFL. It was an expected development for a team starting over after a disastrous series of choices from the prior regime that left the cupboard bare in way too many spots to fill in one offseason. For these Lions to win, they need their best players to perform at their best.
Starting with the offense, it was a rough day for the top Lions. Center Frank Ragnow, arguably the best center in the NFL, fired off a snap too early that resulted in a red zone turnover. He also left injured on the play and did not return.
Running back D’Andre Swift had a terrible performance running the ball. The slippery, strong runner we’ve come to expect in No. 32 was nowhere to be found in Soldier Field. Swift had poor vision and went down on contact he normally runs through on his way to just 16 yards on eight carries. Tight end T.J. Hockenson managed just four catches on eight targets for 42 yards. The Bears focused on taking him away. Hockenson didn’t play poorly but the Lions needed more from their top offensive weapon.
Quarterback Jared Goff was no small part of the problem for Hockenson. It’s hard to consider Goff one of the top talents on the offense after his uninspiring play the last two weeks, but unfortunately, he plays the most important position. He certainly didn’t play like someone who doesn’t need to be replaced in Chicago. Goff didn’t get much help from first-round rookie Penei Sewell, either. The big left tackle struggled through his worst game of the season against a talented Bears defensive front.
On defense, the Lions were already thin on impact talents before Romeo Okwara left the game early with an apparent Achilles injury. Veterans Michael Brockers, Nick Williams and Alex Anzalone, players the precocious defense needs to set the tone and step up, were largely invisible in Chicago.
There were some more lightly regarded players who excelled. Kalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus both played great games at wide receiver. Ragnow’s replacement at center, Evan Brown, was the team’s most reliable lineman in the second half. Rookie nose tackle Alim McNeill started slow but then really stepped up. Outside LB Austin Bryant had some positive moments in place of Romeo Okwara and injured Trey Flowers, who did not play. But the “stars” did not shine.
It’s hard enough for a lesser-talented team to win in the NFL. When the top players don’t excel, it’s darn near impossible. The Lions learned that the hard way in Week 4 in Chicago.