Ranking the offenses the Lions will face in 2021

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The Detroit Lions defense figures to look quite a bit different under new head coach Dan Campbell and coordinator Aaron Glenn in 2021 than it did last year under Matt Patricia.

Good. Detroit’s defense was putrid last year.

Here’s how bad Patricia’s passive, failed defense fared in 2020:

2020 DVOA: 32nd

Points allowed: 32nd

Yards allowed: 32nd

Sacks: 26th

Takeaways: 31st

With the deck shuffled all over the depth chart and a more aggressive, attacking style with an emphasis on athleticism, the Lions defense should look quite a bit better. But they still face a bevy of impressive offenses on the 2021 schedule.

Here’s an early projection at how the offenses the Lions will face in 2021 will rank, from worst to best.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers saw a massive regression by both longtime QB Ben Roethlisberger and the normally powerful run game in 2020. Pittsburgh's offense sputtered badly last year despite having a solid (on paper) line and a pretty dynamic receiving corps. 2020 offensive DVOA: 22nd Rushing yards: 32nd Passing yards: 15th Points: 12th Now consider that Roethlisberger is a year older and his arm looked shot down the stretch. Four of the starting offensive linemen are gone after the team cut Pro Bowl right guard David DeCastro. Leading rusher James Conner is also gone, though first-round pick Najee Harris should be an upgrade. Between the eviscerated line, Big Ben's ongoing loss of vigor and the Pittsburgh passing offense relying a little too much on former Lions TE Eric Ebron in the red zone, this Steelers unit could be one of the worst in the league. They do have some impressive weapons on the outside in Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Juju Smith-Schuster, so if the patchwork line clicks and Roethlisberger is both physically and mentally sharp, there is some upward mobility here. That's quite a bit of "if" to believe in...

Denver Broncos

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The Broncos have tried to make it work with young Drew Lock at QB, but it just hasn't happened. Last year's Broncos are a good example of what happens when the run game is better than the passing offense. 2020 offensive DVOA: 30th Rushing yards: 13th Passing yards: 26th Points: 23rd Much of that blame falls on Lock, who threw 15 interceptions against 16 touchdowns despite being well-protected by a solid line. Young wideouts Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler offer more promise, with third-year TE Noah Fant returning as their top receiver from 2020. Tim Patrick showed he's a viable weapon at WR as well. The run game has a 1-2 punch of Melvin Gordon and rookie second-rounder Javonte Williams, as well as serious depth at RB. Now if Teddy Bridgewater proves an upgrade over Lock, the ceiling raises. Bridgewater is a fairly low-ceiling passer but he's proven more capable than Lock. If the rumors about Aaron Rodgers somehow landing in Denver prove true, look out above. But barring that, this looks like another year where Denver's offense is in the bottom 10.

Philadelphia Eagles

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Much like the Lions, the Eagles are at the beginning of a radical offensive overhaul. They have a new head coach in Nick Sirianni, a new starting QB in Jalen Hurts and a lot of question marks at wide receiver. 2020 offensive DVOA: 28th Rushing yards: 9th Passing yards: 28th Points: 26th Hurts takes over full-time for Carson Wentz, who morphed into a shellshocked disaster before being dispatched to Indianapolis for pennies on the dollar of his massive contract. He has promising young weapons in first-rounders Jaelon Reagor (2020) and Devonta Smith (2021), though the Eagles have little else at receiver beyond Greg Ward and his 7.9 yards per reception. The line looks above-average with the starting five. So does the tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, though Ertz's status with the team is up in the air. Few teams run the ball better than the Eagles (third in yards per carry in 2020), leaning on the impressive line and underappreciated RB Miles Sanders. Hurts can also run (5.6 ypc) and they have depth with Boston Scott and ex-Lions Kerryon Johnson and Jason Huntley.

Cincinnati Bengals

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A healthy Joe Burrow figures to elevate a unit that had issues at pretty much every aspect of playing offense a year ago. 2020 offensive DVOA: 29th Rushing yards: 24th Passing yards: 27th Points: 29th Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, had flashes as a rookie when he wasn't on his back. He figures to be ready after recovering from knee surgery. The same is true of top RB Joe Mixon, who played just six games a year ago. Adding top-5 pick JaMarr Chase to the mix at wide receiver gives the Bengals a nice set of triplets, at least in theory. Chase replaces A.J. Green, the longtime standout whose play had quietly declined of late. Another Cincinnati stalwart, RB Gio Bernard, is also gone. But in Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and TE Drew Sample, Burrow has a stable of young weapons to grow with. The line remains a huge question. From Jonah Williams at left tackle to newcomer Riley Reiff at right tackle, the Bengals have devoted a lot of attention to protecting Burrow. It should be better but it's hard to be worse. Things are looking up overall with good health, but these Bengals don't figure to leap out of the bottom third of the league offensively just yet.

San Francisco 49ers

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The 49ers offense appears to be one of the league's biggest enigmas entering the 2021 season. Much of that uncertainty centers on the QB position, where oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo is holding the fort until No. 3 overall draft pick Trey Lance is ready for action. 2020 offensive DVOA: 20th Rushing yards: 15th Passing yards: 12th Points: 21st San Francisco's offense underachieved on the scoreboard thanks to an abundance of turnovers (31, 2nd-most in the league). Garoppolo and injury fill-ins Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard all struggled with ball security and handling pressure. Injuries also ravaged the RB spot, though in coach Kyle Shanahan's system the 49ers still found success no matter if it was Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson or Jerick McKinnon toting the rock. The line added veteran center Alex Mack to shore up the interior and they're good at tackle with greybeard Trent Williams and improving Mike McGlinchey on the other side. So much of their passing success revolves around All-Pro TE George Kittle. When he was out for eight games, the ripple effect was harmful to the rest of the offense. Wideouts Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Richie James are all at their best after the catch but don't threaten with size. The wild card is Lance, the precocious wunderkind from North Dakota State. He's got outstanding physical talent but ridiculously scant experience at the FCS level. He's the future. If he proves to be good in the present, these Niners — if healthy — are dangerous. Being so reliant upon guys with injury issues is a legit concern even for a mastermind like Shanahan.

Chicago Bears

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Just how inefficient was the combination of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles at quarterback in 2020? The Bears finished 25th in passing yards, 18th in TDs and 21st in total first downs despite being 8th in pass attempts and featuring one of the NFL's best wide receivers in Allen Robinson. 2020 offensive DVOA: 25th Rushing yards: 22nd Passing yards: 25th Points: 22nd To help remedy that glaring inefficiency, the Bears brought in both capable veteran Andy Dalton and drafted Ohio State's Justin Fields in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. Either one represents a major upgrade and should make Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller and the rest of the receiving corps much better. The line remains on the lower end of average but did address tackle with physical second-rounder Teven Jenkins. David Montgomery is a consistently productive dual-threat running back and they have some depth there. It's a unit that could spring to life if either Dalton (possible but unlikely) or Fields (much more likely) is the answer at quarterback. Probably asking too much for it to happen in 2021, but Chicago will be better on offense this fall than they have been in some time.

Arizona Cardinals

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Trading for DeAndre Hopkins proved a stroke of genius for the Cardinals. Adding the All-Pro wide receiver took both young QB Kyler Murray and the Arizona offense to another level. 2020 offensive DVOA: 19th Rushing yards: 7th Passing yards: 17th Points: 13th Murray made the Pro Bowl by throwing for almost 4,000 yards and rushing for another 819. He cut back on the sacks and bad decisions that marred his rookie campaign. Hopkins caught 115 passes for over 1,400 yards. Running back Kenyan Drake rounded out the very effective triplets set with almost 1,000 rushing yards and 10 TDs. Now the Cardinals have added Rondale Moore and A.J. Green alongside Hopkins and Christian Kirk, though legendary Larry Fitzgerald is now gone. So is Drake, who left in free agency to Las Vegas. Replacing him with a combination of Chase Edmonds and James Conner will be an interesting experiment. Edmonds is a great receiver. Yet the most significant offseason addition is in the middle with center Rodney Hudson. He's consistently one of the NFL's best and solidifies an interior OL that has fluctuated between barely serviceable and dreadful in recent years. The Cardinals are looking quite formidable with the new additions and the emergence of Murray as a more confident and reliable field general.

Los Angeles Rams

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Matthew Stafford's new team can use the longtime Lions quarterback to lift up a unit that moved the ball well but struggled to cash in scoring opportunities. 2020 offensive DVOA: 10th Rushing yards: 10th Passing yards: 13th Points: 22nd Stafford takes over for Jared Goff with the express purpose of converting all those yards into more points. The skill positions return largely intact, save for No. 3 WR Josh Reynolds and top TE Gerald Everett. In Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, the Rams have an underrated wideout tandem. The same is true of the 1-2 punch at RB in Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, who rushed for 624 and 625 yards, respectively. There is depth at WR with young Van Jefferson and veteran DeSean Jackson, too. The line remains a variable. Andrew Whitworth is 39 at left tackle and missed time with injuries a year ago. Center Brian Allen joins right guard Austin Corbett and LG David Edwards on the interior. None are better than average and don't often rise to that level, though Corbett's career is trending up. It's a solid overall Rams offense that upgraded at QB and hopes the addition of Stafford rejuvenates the scoring and head coach/offensive mastermind Sean McVay's aggression.

Atlanta Falcons

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The Falcons remain one of the NFL's most potent aerial attacks, even with a prominent casting change as the alpha receiver. 2020 offensive DVOA: 21st Rushing yards: 27th Passing yards: 5th Points: 16th Perennial All-Pro wideout Julio Jones was traded away, but the Falcons reloaded with No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts. The athletic freak of a tight end can do (potentially) many of the things Jones did. Along with Calvin Ridley and criminally underrated Russell Gage, they give veteran QB Matt Ryan an impressive cadre of targets. The line looks pretty good with three former first-round picks, the best of which is young RG Chris Lindstrom. Atlanta is replacing the other two starters, one of whom is a big loss in center Alex Mack. The Falcons drafted two middle-round linemen in Drew Dalman and Jalen Mayfield to provide reinforcements, but they might not be ready just yet. The run game figures to struggle once again. Todd Gurley was washed at RB a year ago, only effective in short-yardage red zone situations. Brian Hill and Ito Smith are also gone. Atlanta's backfield now consists of Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison and return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson. It might be the worst backfield in the league. It might not matter if Ryan and Pitts develop chemistry quickly.

Baltimore Ravens

A tale of two offenses can be found in Baltimore. No team ran the ball better — or more often — than the Ravens with Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins in 2020. All three topped 720 yards rushing. Then there's the passing game. No team threw for fewer yards or less often than Jackson and the Ravens. 2020 offensive DVOA: 11th Rushing yards: 1st Passing yards: 32nd Points: 7th Jackson's regression back to being merely great from his superstar MVP turn in 2019 had roots in issues around the young dynamo. Their offensive line lost Pro Bowl G Marshal Yanda retirement and excellent LT Ronnie Stanley to injury. REinforcements have come in the form of Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva, plus Stanley coming back. Receiving remains the big question. To that end, Baltimore drafted Rashod Bateman in the first round and signed free agent Sammy Watkins. They should push tiny Marquise Brown to where he belongs on the depth chart. Jackson and his talented TEs have good chemistry, too. The Baltimore run game will once again threaten to lead the league in both yards and YPC. If Jackson and the passing offense can push back to being more balanced like they did in 2019, this Ravens offense will be very difficult to slow down.

Minnesota Vikings

Fans like to criticize Kirk Cousins and his financial cost, but the Vikings offense has been quite potent with Cousins at the helm. 2020 offensive DVOA: 8th Rushing yards: 5th Passing yards: 14th Points: 11th The skill positions around Cousins, who fluctuates between mediocre and pretty good at QB, are impressive. Justin Jefferson was a home run pick as a first-round rookie a year ago, joining Adam Theilen to make one of the league's best 1-2 combinations at wide receiver. Jefferson netted 1,400 receiving yards while Theilen scored 14 touchdowns. Running back Dalvin Cook is an exceptional dual-threat weapon. He ran for 1,557 yards, scored 16 touchdowns on the ground and also managed to catch 44 passes. They have very little depth beyond the standout starters and quality young TE Irv Smith, although No. 2 RB Alexander Mattison has feasted against the Lions. Longtime TE Kyle Rudolph is gone. The line is chock full of youngsters drafted in the third round or earlier, headed by rookie first-rounder Christian Darrisaw at left tackle and center Garrett Bradbury. As long as Cousins keeps the trains running on time, the Vikings offense is explosive and diverse. The lack of depth is a potential major pitfall, but don't underestimate the strength of this unit.

Seattle Seahawks

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Russell Wilson is a perennial MVP candidate, or rather he should be. Wilson keeps the Seahawks a threat to score from anywhere on any play. 2020 offensive DVOA: 6th Rushing yards: 12th Passing yards: 16th Points: 8th Last season was one of his greatest. Wilson threw for over 4,200 yards and 40 touchdowns, while also rushing for over 500 more. His ability to transform chicken excrement into a glorious salad of points and production is legendary. In D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and versatile RB Chris Carson, Wilson has several skill players who can make great things happen with the ball in their hands. Both Metcalf and Lockett topped 1,000 receiving yards. Seattle added nifty WR D'Wayne Eskridge to the mix in the draft to build depth, which has been a long-running problem for the Seahawks. The oft-maligned offensive line has perked up with venerable left tackle Duane Brown and a trade to bring in a very good right guard in Gabe Jackson. It can only help Wilson, who faces too much pressure despite being very good at it. Again, the depth is somewhere between functional (WR) and atrocious (OL) and the TEs don't scare anyone outside the red zone, but Seattle is explosive as long as Wilson is on the field.

Cleveland Browns

[Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

The Cleveland offense is loaded and poised to threaten as the best in the entire league in the second season under head coach Kevin Stefanski. It's headlined by the best starting offensive line in the league, keyed by right tackle Jack Conklin and left guard Joel Bitonio. The line helps the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt look even better than they are on their own, which is saying something. Chubb maximizes yardage better than any RB in the league, while Hunt is a fantastic receiver and strong change-up option in the backfield. 2020 offensive DVOA: 9th Rushing yards: 3rd Passing yards: 24th Points: 14th Baker Mayfield grew quite a bit at QB in his first year in Stefanski's system. He will have stability of scheme for the first time in years, and Mayfield also returns his top weapons in Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashard Higgins. Cleveland is freakishly deep at tight end; David Njoku would be the top starter on at least 20 other teams but he's No. 3 on the Browns behind Austin Hooper (quietly a disappointment in 2020) and Harrison Bryant. The Browns added world-class speedster Anthony Schwartz at wideout as well. If Beckham returns from his torn ACL, the Browns offense is going to be a major problem to defend against. Keep in mind the offensive production numbers from last year were watered down by playing two home games in monsoon winds over 50 MPH and two others with multiple starters sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols. Cleveland might have the most balanced top-shelf offense in the league.

Green Bay Packers

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Aaron Rodgers' iffy status makes this a tenuous top choice, but that's why Packers nation is freaking out at the possibility the future Hall of Famer might be done in Green Bay. 2020 offensive DVOA: 1st Rushing yards: 8th Passing yards: 9th Points: 1st Adding slot standout Amari Rodgers in the draft helps balance the passing offense around Davante Adams, the best big-play receiver in the league. Wideouts Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous (brother of Lions rookie Amon-Ra) St. Brown are capable but unspectacular, and top TE Robert Tonyan fits that bill too. The line is built around a great left tackle in David Bakhtiari and an emerging stud center in Elgton Jenkins, though the rest of the line is barely adequate most games. Valuable RB Jamaal Williams is now a Lion, but the Packers return speedy Aaron Jones. He topped 1,100 yards and scored nine rushing TDs in 2020. Thumping A.J. Dillon takes over Williams' spot as the change of pace back. It's really simple here: if Rodgers is under center, throwing to Davante Adams and handing the ball to Aaron Jones, this Packers offense is arguably the best in the NFC. If it's Jordan Love, all bets are off.

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