49ers defensive line will feast on Lions with Taylor Decker out

Taylor Decker #68 of the Detroit Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Taylor Decker #68 of the Detroit Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Injuries are never a good thing, but the 49ers should take full advantage of the Lions being without starting left tackle Taylor Decker in Week 1.

The San Francisco 49ers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL heading into 2021, and that’s not a hyperbolic statement.

Listing off players is always fun, and it’s easy to highlight edge rushers like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, while also championing other top-contributing linemen like Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones and Samson Ebukam. Even though the Niners could potentially be without their 2020 first-round NFL Draft pick, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (knee), for their Week 1 road contest against the Detroit Lions, the D-line depth is more than adequate to make up for that challenge.

And that challenge might be a little bit easier than initially anticipated.

One of the few offensive strengths the Lions have heading into 2021 is their offensive line, a unit Pro Football Focus ranked 10th overall heading into the season.

Yet it appears as if one of the key cogs in Detroit’s O-line will miss the regular-season opener against San Francisco.

49ers won’t have to face Lions left tackle Taylor Decker

Lions head coach Dan Campbell told reporters starting left tackle Taylor Decker is almost assured to miss Week 1 against the 49ers with a hand injury:

Decker, to whom PFF gave a strong 82.0 overall grade last season, was viewed as an anchor point for this budding unit. With him out of the fray, Campbell and the Lions have one of many different options to choose from.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Josh Schrock pointed out the possible replacement combinations:

"With Decker likely out, the Lions will have to reshuffle their offensive line in his absence. They could move rookie tackle Penei Sewell over from right tackle to left tackle and have Matt Nelson play right tackle. Or they could have Sewell play left tackle, shift Halapoulivaati Vaitai from right guard to right tackle and slot in Logan Stenberg at RG. They could also leave Sewell at right tackle and have Nelson play left tackle."

Sewell was primarily a left tackle at Oregon, so that move makes sense. But the 2021 first-round draft pick spent all offseason and the preseason at right tackle, so that might be an odd adjustment.

Additionally, the idea of moving a number of players around — Sewell from right tackle to left, Vaitai from right guard to right tackle, thereby inserting Stenberg — could create a number of different problems for Detroit against the Niners’ formidable pass rush.

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan’s approach with O-line injuries has been to sub in the immediate No. 2 option into that very spot, not rotate players from one spot along the line to another — the series of moves he considers a downgrade at multiple O-line spots because of one injury.

Perhaps Campbell takes that same approach and inserts Nelson at right guard solely, leaving Sewell in at right tackle.

Either way, Decker’s looming absence should be a boost to players like Bosa, Ford and Ebukam, knowing full well at least one of them will regularly be going up against a reserve lineman in one capacity or another.

For Lions quarterback Jared Goff, it could be a long, long day without Decker in the fray.

Next. Breaking down 49ers defensive game plan vs. Lions. dark