LIONS INSIDER

FOUR DOWNS: Decker returns to game action

Posted Nov 12, 2017

Four downs following the Lions' 38-24 victory over the Browns includes Decker's debut, Lawson's day, rushing defense and rushing offense.

FIRST DOWN: DECKER'S DEBUT

Taylor Decker made his long-awaited return to the Detroit Lions lineup Sunday in their 38-24 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Decker wasn't afforded a training camp, a preseason or even a first half of the season to get ready, so the Lions had a plan to ease their second-year left tackle back into game actiion. He and Brian Mihalik shared reps at left tackle throughout the game.

“It was good to get back out there,” Decker said after the game. “It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been able to play football – since Seattle last year since that I actually strapped it up. Five months since I did any football stuff.

“So, it was good to get back out there and get my feet wet and get settled back in.”

Decker admitted, however, he still has more settling in to do. He said he had some nerves early on, but once he got into the flow of the game, it was back to playing football again.

Decker injured his right shoulder in June that required surgery and five months of recovery. He returned to practice a week and a half ago, and was taken off the PUP list Saturday.

Lions coaches are obviously looking out for Decker early in his return from injury, and don’t want to put him in any bad positions.

Decker held up pretty well in his season debut. He faced Browns No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett most of the day. Garrett finished with no sacks, one quarterback hit and one tackle.

SECOND DOWN: LAWSON’S DAY

Cornerback Nevin Lawson didn’t mince any words after the game. He called the first half of Sunday’s game the worst of his career, and it would be hard to argue with him.

Lawson was beat on a 38-yard pass from DeShone Kizer to Sammie Cotes on Cleveland's first offensive play of the game that helped set up a field goal on their opening drive.

Cleveland’s second drive finished with a Kenny Britt 19-yard touchdown catch that came when Lawson whiffed on the open-field tackle of Britt.

The Lions have rotated Lawson and veteran DJ Hayden all season long at the cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay, but due to Lawson’s start, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Hayden took on more of the role the rest of the game.

But Lions head coach Jim Caldwell stuck with his rotation, and was rewarded in the second quarter when Lawson came up with one of the biggest plays of the game.

He stripped Browns tight end Seth DeValve of the football after a short catch. Lawson then had the presence of mind to jump on the ball, get himself off the turf before he could be touched, and return it 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 17-10 lead.

“He’s got guts,” Caldwell said of Lawson after the game. “He’s tough. That’s a heck of a play to be made getting that ball out and then picking it up and running for a score. It’s not a typical play.”

Caldwell said Lawson is the type of player who grinds all the time. Sunday’s game is a perfect example of that.

THIRD DOWN: RUSHING DEFENSE

Up and down the field the Cleveland offense ran against Detroit’s defense -- literally. When it was all said and done, Cleveland finished with 201 yards and a 6.1-yard average per rush on Detroit's defense.

It’s not often a team rushes for 200 yards and loses the game by double-digits. The Lions have some timely big plays to thank for that.

Still, it’s a performance by the Lions' run defense that will no-doubt get an extra look on the film reel this week. The two previous times the Lions have allowed more than 150 yards rushing this season, they lost both contests – Atlanta (151) and New Orleans (193).

It’s an area the Lions need to clean up on defense moving forward.

“It’s going to happen sometimes,” Caldwell said of the run defense after the game. “I don’t think you can be perfect every game. That’s a lot of yards, obviously, 201 yards, 50-something-odd yards by the quarterback (Kizer, 57).

“We’ve typically been a team that’s been able to stop the run, so have they, we had over 100 (yards), so, we just have to get better and back to how we were doing things earlier.”

FOURTH DOWN: RUSHING OFFENSE

The Lions' run game was certainly a spark for them against the Browns. Cleveland came into the game ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing just 84.3 yards per game on average on the ground.

Detroit managed 104 yards on 19 carries for a 5.5-yard average.

There was one sequence in the first quarter that showed how Sunday might be a little bit different for a Detroit rushing attack that entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL.

The Lions’ first score of the game, a 46-yard Matt Prater field goal after Detroit had fallen behind 10-0, was set up by three straight runs of 20, 10 and 21 yards by Ameer Abdullah, Stafford and Theo Riddick, respectively. The three plays moved the Lions from their own 25 out to the Browns 24.

The Browns gave the Lions some early looks on defense in the passing game they had a hard time adjusting to, and it was Detroit’s run game that kept them in the ball game early on.

“I handed it off and I think got 20 (yards) twice in the first half,” Safford said after the game. “That’s big-time.

“I told those guys late in the game, kind of when it was in hand after (Darius) Slay had that pick, I told our backs and our guys up front, they kept us in it in the first half.

“We were having to adjust to some different looks in the passing game and some different coverages that we didn’t expect to see. Being able to hand the ball off and get 20 and 10, whatever it was, and get points out of those drives, it was huge. It was leaning on that run game early was great for us.”