Film Shows Improvement At Left Tackle With Taylor Decker’s Return From Injury

Embed from Getty Images

A Film Review Of Taylor Decker’s Performance Against The Browns In Week Ten.

Lions’ starting left tackle Taylor Decker has missed from the off-season through week nine due to a shoulder labrum injury that required surgery in June earlier this year. He made his 2017 debut last week against the Cleveland Browns and his impact was noticeable on film.

Instant Upgrade For Running Game

The left tackle position in his absence has been tough for most of this season. The last two weeks Brian Mihalik took over for Greg Robinson and there has been some improvement in protection with this switch. But the Lions running game had been sputtering this season due to poor run blocking.

However, when Decker returned to the lineup against one of the better run defenses in the league in Cleveland, the improvement in the running game was clear. Part of this has to do with blocking assignments shifting. Now, the left guard does not have to chip the end or help the left tackle out on every play. This allowed the guards to help center Travis Swanson out, who has been having a very tough couple of weeks.

This type of run is a good example of the instant upgrade he provided. The Lions have favored stretch and outside runs on early downs this year, but backside pursuit from poor tackle play has been the bane of these plays’ success. This play is a stretch right with a fake end around. Immediately after the snap Decker fires out from his stance attacking downhill to engage the defender. He maintains inside leverage and slows him down from being able to make a play on the ball-carrier.

If the linebacker gets free quickly like they have so often this year, he has enough time to scrape down the line and potentially stop Riddick near the line of scrimmage for 2nd down and long. Instead, it is a 22-yard run for a first down, setting up the Lions for their first score of the game.

This play shows another element that Decker brings to the left tackle spot that they have rarely had in his absence: someone who looks for work. Its an outside run designed to go between the tackle and tight end.  The Lions left tackle kicks out to help the tight end set the edge, but the tight end has taken care of his man. So, Decker turns inside to look for work and seals off the strong side linebacker. It creates a nice hole for running back Ameer Abdullah to scamper through and goes for twenty yards untouched until the play ending tackle.

Pass Blocking Improvement

Brian Mihalik did a nice job in pass protection through the past couple weeks in Detroit. But when he did struggle, it was typically against more athletic edge rushers, which happens to be what Taylor is good at in pass protection. Decker combines great length solid footwork and technique, to either ride more athletic edge rusher up field when they try to bend the edge or prevent defenders from crossing his face inside.

On this play, he faces the number one overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft: Myles Garrett. The Browns selected him not only because of his high production in college, but largely because of how freakishly athletic Garrett is. You see the rookie tries to use these athletics traits to speed rush Decker and tries to bend inside for the sack. Decker mirrors him, while keeping his hips low to maintain leverage when he engages the defender. Once he sees Garrett try to bend inside, he rides him up the field removing him from the play.

This gives quarterback Matthew Stafford a clean pocket to throw from and enough time to find Eric Ebron for the go-ahead touchdown in their victory over the Browns. Decker was limited in this game. But there is no denying the upgrade his return brings to the left tackle spot and should be very promising for the Lions, who are the well in the playoff hunt and have a good shot at division heading into their final seven games.

Chat with Zac on Twitter @Warbs24 and on the Lions Subreddit!

More From The Detroit Lions Podcast