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Film review: Taylor Decker is not yet back to form

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In his return to action against the Browns, Decker looked rough around the edges.

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s a good thing it was Cleveland

Most people reading that title probably think it is something snarky about how the Browns came into Ford Field at the bottom of the standings with no wins and could not possibly be a challenge. That is not the case at all; what we mean is that the particular athletes who happen to be on that roster posed a significant challenge for 68 LT Taylor Decker, who saw his first regular season playing time since sustaining a torn labrum injury in June. Our Jeremy Reisman noted in the week leading up to the game that the Cleveland defense is actually quite good, and Ryan Mathews specifically highlighted pass protection for 9 QB Matthew Stafford as a concern in our roundtable article.

Consider the edge rushers for the Browns: the first overall draft pick in the 2017 draft 95 DE Myles Garrett, the 32nd overall selection in the 2016 draft 90 DE Emmanuel Ogbah, and second round selection from the 2015 draft 44 OLB Nate Orchard. Garrett has played well when healthy, Ogbah has led the team in sacks and generally been a terror in opposing backfields, and Orchard was pegged as a potential breakout player for the team in 2017.

All three of those players were considered athletic freaks when they went from college to the professional ranks, so attempting to block them was a fantastic way to test Taylor Decker’s readiness. In the road win at Green Bay, we all got to see what Stafford can do with sufficient time to make reads and throws; how would Decker do against Cleveland’s trio of speedy pressure specialists?

Slamming the door inside

The interesting thing with the tape from Sunday is how different Decker looked when pass rushers tried inside moves instead of going wide outside. When challenged by the Browns to secure the quick interior lanes to Stafford, the second-year Buckeye was excellent.

2017 Week 10 CLE, 1Q (8:02). First-and-10 at the Detroit 45.

Facing off against Orchard with no help, Decker secured against the inside rush magnificently. At the snap in the left panel, the Browns loaded the rest of the pressure to the Lions’ right side, isolating Orchard against Decker in quite a bit of space. By the second shot in the middle panel, we can really see how both lines have rotated away.

Coverage down the field was solid, so Stafford had nowhere to go with the ball. Even the short safety valve in the foreground (25 HB Theo Riddick) was taken away. But because the Browns could not get Orchard on the quarterback, Stafford went to the wheels and picked up the first down on his own.

The overhead angle from the broadcast replay shows just how much space the Lions’ left tackle needed to protect, especially to the interior on his right. For comparison, let us now roll the tape back a bit and check an earlier play in the first quarter with 72 LT Brian Mihalik blowing the inside lane.

2017 Week 10 CLE, 1Q (10:11). Third-and-5 at the Detroit 30.

This is the same play that Jeremy referenced in his film review of 60 LG Graham Glasgow against the Browns; it is the early interception that led to a 10-0 lead for the visiting team. Boxed in yellow is Brian Mihalik facing off against Myles Garrett. Boxed in red is 36 HB Dwayne Washington, who starts the play to Stafford’s right but slides across his face to possibly chip an edge rusher (second panel) then release into the left flat (third panel).

After releasing into his route, Washington keeps running and does not turn his head quickly. Garrett blows through the middle and forces Stafford to get rid of the ball. In the second panel on the right, the ball is in the air and Washington still has not turned to look for a pass. Why might we think Stafford wanted to dump it off to his running back?

Just check the quarterback’s eyes as Garrett closes in for the kill. The ball is supposed to go to his left, but Stafford panics into a poor decision and tosses a bad ball over the middle where Tate was supposed to have been heading. Only problem was that Tate was nowhere near the targeted area because he’d been knocked down on his route.

By the time Washington even turned his head, the pass was already flying by. Why do we feel this is a problem to be highlighted? It was third down, Washington was on a delayed route, and a completed dump to him in all likelihood would have moved the chains. In the left panel, there is nothing but open field in front for massive YAC if only he turns to look for the ball from Stafford.

Swinging it open outside

Cleveland did not test Decker to the inside much, and when they did it was not successful. But as good as he was to his right, there were numerous plays where opposing rushers got around the corner to his left. Now that we have managed to sneak in some non-Decker film review on the interception, let us move on to these outside protection issues.

2017 Week 10 CLE, 2Q (6:47). Third-and-12 at the Detroit 28.

Mid-way through the second quarter with the score tied at 10 apiece, the Lions were attempting to convert a third-and-long when the Browns dialed up a funky twist rush. At the top of each panel above is Myles Garrett executing a speed rush around the corner against Taylor Decker. Ultimately, Stafford stepped up into the pocket away from Garrett and was sacked for a three-yard loss by Ogbah.

What is bothersome about this play is that Decker fails to get any depth and barely impeded his man. There were multiple breakdowns in protection here (read: 70 RG Corey Robinson), but Garrett flying in from the back closed off an escape opportunity to the left.

2017 Week 10 CLE, 4Q (13:33). Third-and-12 at the Detroit 28.

I am not even sure what Decker is thinking here. Is he expecting 21 HB Ameer Abdullah to come over to his side and block Myles Garrett after the play fake? I just do not have anything to say here.

Jeremy and Ryan suggested that it may have been a draw play that was blown up by a failed block from Robinson. The behavior of the wide receivers other than Marvin Jones certainly agrees with this interpretation, so I believe they are correct. Tate, Ebron, and TJ all square up to block and do not run routes. Even in a called draw, though, if it has the built-in alert smoke route to Marvin then at least a token block on Garrett is warranted. Stafford was flushed from the pocket, and after much weaving back and forth he was dropped by 58 LB Christian Kirksey for no gain (officially scored as a sack).

2017 Week 10 CLE, 4Q (12:21). Third-and-8 at the Cleveland 46.

(I know CBS says Third-and-7 on the field, but the play-by-play log shows third-and-8)

The Browns bring their strong safety on a blitz, moving 26 SS Derrick Kindred onto the line next to Garrett. The design is similar to the isolation blitz that produced the interception in the second quarter: the entire line attacks left, and a single rusher goes one-on-one to the right. In this case, Myles Garrett slants to the middle in front of Taylor Decker, hoping to get Kindred a second or two to get the edge.

As can be seen in the left panel, Decker stays home and forces Kindred to hitch up. Unfortunately, he then stops his feet and allows the safety to burst by and dip under a last ditch effort to latch on.

One last thing to point out about this play, since it was not a drive killer, is Dwayne Washington’s head. Look back at the stills before the GIF and note how Washington’s head turns almost immediately after he clears the 50-yard line.

Remember the problem on the interception where Stafford had nowhere to dump the ball on the interception? We are pretty sure someone said something to Washington based on what he did here. Instead of a sack by Kindred to take the Lions out of field goal range, Washington caught the ball with lots of room to convert the first down.

2017 Week 10 CLE, 4Q (7:46). Third-and-3 at the Detroit 44.

(Again, I know CBS says third-and-4 on the field, but the log shows third-and-3)

Clinging to a one score lead in the fourth quarter near mid-field, the Lions have a very manageable third down situation but blow it due to bad blocking. The Browns stack six at the line but rush just three. A fourth rusher from behind the line is 53 LB Joe Schobert, who comes on a delayed rush (purple arrow). The protection call has the line sliding right with Riddick picking up any rushers on the left edge. Stafford has the thing called out perfectly prior to the snap, and you have hear him call out for the line to “tag 53,” designating Schobert to be picked up.

Garrett rushes inside, turning Decker away from the outside path Schobert will take. In the second panel, we can see Riddick move up and set to guard the back side, but in the third panel Decker turns away from Garrett. He is distracted by Schobert, and decides for some reason to let Garrett go in order to pick up the new outside threat instead of letting Riddick go get the linebacker.

Letting a guy like Myles Garrett go free in order to account for a linebacker seems like an awful idea. It is not clear what Decker thought here, but it is possible he was expecting Riddick to help as a middle protector inside but not outside.

“Preseason” Week 10

Some of those outside rush situations look like absolute disasters, but remember the first two preseason games were horrible outings for everyone along the offensive line. The unit did not start looking better until the third preseason game against New England. While he had some dodgy moments in the Cleveland game in Week 10, fans must remember that Taylor Decker has been on the PUP list for more than half the season. Decker himself acknowledged that getting used to the “real game” pace of play takes time:

The left tackle missed the first nine games of the season after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder during OTAs. He declined to slap a grade on his season debut, in which he split time with Brian Mihalik, but acknowledged it took some time to adjust to the pace of play.

“In practice you can try to simulate it as much as possible going against guys, but game speed’s a different thing. I had to get back out there for a couple drives and get my feet wet. There was no other way around it. It might not feel great when you first get out there, but you settle in,” Decker said. “It’s still football. It’s what I do every day.”

Unlike everyone else on the field who had the benefit of playing and practicing through a full slate of training camp, preseason, and nine regular season games, Taylor Decker is just getting his 2017 season started. The tremendous athletes on the edge for the Cleveland Browns like Garrett, Ogbah, and Orchard provided a nice test to gauge the readiness of the Lions’ returning left tackle. There appear to be some issues to be worked on with speed rushes outside and miscommunication of assignment, so watch for improvement next week when the Bears move guys like Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks or Pernell McPhee over to Decker’s side.