Allen Park – It’s not unusual to see a bearded man walking the halls of the Detroit Lions practice facility with a pencil behind his ear. Usually, it’s Matt Patricia, but on Thursday it was offensive tackle Taylor Decker.
Decker, like his coach more renowned for the geeky fashion accessory, is a diligent note-taker. He aggressively consumes film, watching his own performance up to four times each week, while chronicling the dominant skills and shortcomings of his opponents, as well as how the league’s elite offensive tackles have handled his upcoming assignments.
In fact, Decker maintains a organized system of his notes on the edge rushers he anticipates seeing frequently during his career.
But last week, it was Decker’s tendencies that came under fire, courtesy of Fox Sports color commentator and former Lions linebacker Chris Spielman, during the team’s 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
During the third quarter of Sunday's game, Spielman highlighted Decker’s head movement, pre- and post-snap, showing how it was tipping whether the Lions would be running or passing.
“Being an average athlete like I was, this is what would help me,” Spielman said. “Look at his head, now we’re two for two on this, his head is inside, this should be a rabbit call. Rabbit means run, ball on the ground. Bird means ball in the air, pass. That’s a read. Taylor will get smart, looking inside while pass blocking, but we’re two for two on the read.”
Spielman also showed how Decker would snap his head at the snap if he was going to be in pass protection, potentially giving away the offense's intent on play-action.
Despite it being a popular topic on social media, Decker claimed he hadn’t heard Spielman’s criticism and didn’t want to directly respond to it, but he isn’t concerned he’s giving away plays.
“I think I look at people that I block, regardless of the play type,” Decker said.
But can eyeing at your assignment before the snap serve as a read for the defense?
“Yeah, I feel like it’s pretty common to do in one way or another,” Decker said. “Yeah, I don’t really know what to say. I feel like plenty of people do it. I don’t know exactly what was said in regards to that. Just concerned moving forward with the Patriots.”
Decker declined to offer an explanation on why he tends to look in before the snap or how he specifically evaluates himself when going back over the film, fearing he might give away a piece of valuable information opponents could use against him in the future.
“Everybody watches film differently, and I feel like getting into any of that is going to give something away that could be a competitive advantage for somebody,” he said.
Lions coach Matt Patricia was asked about Spielman's comments earlier in the week, and while Patricia didn't address Decker specifically, the coach did acknowledge that self-scouting for tendencies is part of the team's weekly preparation.
"We look into all of that stuff in a sort of self-scan mode, that’s kind of how we go through the day after the game and the two days after the game," Patricia said. "All that stuff is the type of thing that our coaching staff and our assistant coaches really do a nice job looking through, checking the tape, hitting our guys on everything that comes up during the game along those lines."
If Decker was approached by the coaching staff to make adjustments, he wasn't letting on about a concern.
“At some point, you do certain things well, so you stick with them to a degree,” he said. “If you look at certain players, you can find stuff like that. But if it’s 3rd-and-14, it doesn’t matter. If there are things that put you in the best position to do your job, you have to weigh, does it matter if he knows by a foot or a head, whatever?”