Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez play Monday morning quarterback and look ahead to this week’s Bears game. Recorded Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Two weeks of practice wasn’t enough to get Taylor Decker ready for what he faced in his first game back from a shoulder injury.
“In practice you can try to emulate it as much as possible going against guys, but game speed’s a different thing,” Decker said Sunday. “I had to get back out there for a couple drives and kind of get my feet wet and just go out there. There’s no other way around it.
“You just got to go out there and start playing. You might not feel great when you first get out there, but you settle in.”
That’s the best way to describe Decker’s season debut against the Cleveland Browns: He settled back into the left tackle position after a five-month rehab and eight-game absence to start the season.
Decker played 36 solid if unspectacular snaps in the Lions’ 38-24 victory Sunday. He allowed three pressures and no sacks. The Lions ran just three times over left tackle while Decker was in the game, and those plays resulted in one big gain and two negative-yard runs.
More Lions analysis:
Lions’ mediocrity is exhausting; here’s chance to quell doubts
NFL power rankings, Week 11: Would Lions fall after near Brown(s) out?
Lining up Lions’ excuses vs. Chicago Bears at Solider Field
It certainly wasn’t the best performance of Decker’s career, but considering the rust he had to shake off, it wasn’t all that bad, either.
Decker declined to assess his own performance after the game, saying he wanted to watch film first. Well, the all-22 film is out on the NFL’s GameRewind package, and the grades are in.
Here’s a breakdown of Decker’s performance against the Browns:
Decker, who alternated series at left tackle with Brian Mihalik through most of the first three quarters — Decker played the entire fourth quarter — was at his best Sunday on a couple of running plays.
On the Lions’ third possession of the game, Decker and rookie tight end Michael Roberts opened an alley for Ameer Abdullah to run through for 20 yards. Decker sealed off the inside with a nice block on linebacker Christian Kirksey, while Roberts walled off defensive end Nate Orchard.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Decker’s backside block on defensive tackle Trevon Coley gave Theo Riddick room to cut back for an 8-yard run.
Decker missed a couple cut blocks on the day, including one on the Lions’ final full offensive possession when he dove at Coley’s feet only to have Coley slip the block and stop Abdullah for a 1-yard loss.
He fared well in the run game overall, though. He got to the second level when his blocking assignment called for it, and the Lions gained 15 yards on the three running plays over the left tackle position with Decker in the game.
Apart from the two Abdullah runs, Theo Riddick lost 4 yards on an outside zone play late in the first quarter. Decker handled his assignment on the play, blocking Kirksey, and center Travis Swanson got shoved into the backfield by defensive tackle Jamie Medler and fill-in right guard Corey Robinson couldn’t kick out in time to block linebacker James Burgess.
The Lions didn’t put a lot on Decker’s plate as far as pass blocking, but Decker did allow three quarterback pressures in 20 pass-blocking snaps.
Matthew Stafford generally got rid of the ball quickly, and Decker appeared mostly sharp when it came to calling out defensive overloads and recognizing stunts. He and left guard Graham Glasgow passed off end-tackle combinations to each other on several occasions without incident, though there was some confusion on one fourth-quarter snap when Myles Garrett split Decker and Glasgow and pressured Stafford into an eventual sack.
Decker let Garrett go at one point to pick up blitzing linebacker Joe Schoebert, and Glasgow went low on Coley (he was close to a chop block on the play) and allowed Garrett a free path to the quarterback. Riddick, who had protection from the running back spot, also slid across formation to block Schoebert. Without knowing the Lions’ blocking assignments, it’s impossible to know where to assign blame.
Garrett also beat Decker around left end for a pressure on the Lions’ last offensive play of the second quarter, forcing Stafford to step up in the pocket and into a sack, and he got inside Decker on the Lions’ first offensive play, a slow-developing shot downfield that never materialized when Stafford took a sack.
On the positive side, Decker had textbook protection on Stafford’s touchdown pass to Eric Ebron, when he ran Garrett wide and gave his quarterback enough time in the pocket.
As Decker said Sunday, he didn’t have training camp, he didn’t have a preseason and he didn’t play in the first eight games of the year, so he was bound to have some rust to shake off.
All things considered, Decker played well in his debut, but he was hardly some big revelation for the line or the reason why the Lions won. Brian Mihalik had his moments, too. He helped spring Abdullah for a 19-yard gain in the second quarter and made a nice second-level block on Abdullah’s touchdown run.
Overall, though, given the problems they’ve had up front much of the year, the Lions have to be happy to have Decker back.
Contact Dave Birkett: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!