Each week this season, we’ll have an oral history of a play, trend or scheme from the Eagles’ previous game using the coaches all-22 film. This week, we spotlight right tackle Lane Johnson, who along with left tackle Jason Peters, dominated Chargers defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa in Sunday’s 26-24 victory.
Over the last two seasons, the Eagles are 8-2 when Johnson is in the lineup and 2-8 when he’s not. A year ago, the Eagles opened 3-1, but they lost eight of their next ten as the tackle served a ten-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. The Eagles are 3-1 once again, but Johnson isn’t going anywhere this time. Will he make a difference?
Johnson: I’m not trying to be arrogant — I think when I’m in there I definitely help this team out.
Johnson has allowed only one sack thus far this season.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson: It’s huge for our offensive to keep those guys rolling. And in Lane’s case, I think he’s prepared himself for 16 games. And he’s doing everything the right way and playing well because of it.
FACING THE BEST
Johnson had already faced three of the NFL’s top edge rushers – the Redskins’ Ryan Kerrigan, the Chiefs’ Justin Houston and the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul – before he was to take on Ingram and Bosa.
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich: Looking at the schedule in advance, even before the season, we could see that was going to happen. So I imagine that was part of his motivation the whole offseason.
On Carson Wentz’s opening drive touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, Johnson (No. 65) only needed to hold off Ingram (No. 54) for less than two seconds on quick pass.
Johnson on Ingram: Very quick-twitch guy.
Ingram entered the game second in the NFL with 5-1/2 sacks. He was held sack-less against the Eagles. Johnson won’t get much of a break over the final three months of the season.
Johnson: I still got [the Broncos’] Von Miller and [the Raiders’] Khalil Mack. That’s just how it is this season. I think the left tackle-right tackle dilemma is kind of disappearing in this league. You have to have two pretty good tackles.
Johnson saw his share of both Ingram and Bosa, who had two sacks entering the game.
Johnson: A lot of guys would stay on one side, and now you see a lot of guys flipping all the time. … If they can’t a matchup early, they’ll try to switch things up and see if they can get home somewhere.
Bosa (No. 99), who was also held without a sack, tried an inside move vs. Johnson and got nowhere. Wentz completed a 13-yard pass to Jeffery on third down.
Johnson: Just trying to be better with my hands. Sometimes in pass protection I’ll miss my hands and have to readjust. So I’m just trying to be more accurate with my punch.
ALL HANDS ON DECK
On this play in which Wentz completed a 38-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz, Ingram exploded at the snap and had a step outside on Johnson. But the tackle recovered and ran the end behind Wentz.
Johnson: A lot of [defensive ends] have a great get off, so what they’ll try to do is get the tackle to flip their hips.
Johnson said that he does hand drills almost daily with assistant offensive line coach Eugene Chung.
Johnson: Slapping hands, push-pull to try and get you off balanced, so whenever you get in a game you don’t have to really think about it. It’s muscle memory. It’s just a matter of repetition.
Johnson said that he’ll occasionally hear chatter from opposing players about his suspensions. He said that when he saw Chargers defensive tackle Damion Square before the game, the former Eagle asked him, “What’s up, ‘Roid Boy?’”
Johnson: He was joking, having fun, but it’s still the kind of stuff that makes you mad.
Johnson matched up against Square in the second quarter when LeGarrette Blount ran for eight yards. Square (No. 71) had the inside angle until he was clubbed back.
Johnson: We call it the reach-around technique. [Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] taught it at Alabama. If a three-technique penetrates the gap and beats you front side that’s a way for you to propel yourself in front of them and put them in the opposite direction of the ball.
Johnson said he used the tactic often against Giants linebackers the previous week. He also helped hold Pierre-Paul without a sack.
Johnson: Usually whenever … when you’re doing well, the talking kind of stops. [Pierre-Paul] before the game against the Giants was all dancing around, doing this, doing that. It all comes down to how you play on the field.
Johnson said that the occasional heckling he has heard from opponents has made him mentally tougher.
Johnson: I know what everybody thinks of me. When I go in the games I hear chatter. It just gives me extra motivation to go out there and go play even harder and prove myself.
STILL A FREAK
Johnson hasn’t appeared to have lost any of his speed. On this Blount 10-yard rush, he jumped to the second level and walled off linebacker Nigel Harris (No. 58).
Johnson: [Getting to the second level] is very important, especially on run plays. A lot of plays are made [by] the backside linebacker not getting cut off. That’s something I take pride in, getting to the second level, showing speed and capturing those guys.
Johnson insists that he’s stronger than ever, too.
Johnson: I’m 320, 325 – I’m bigger than I’ve ever been. I’m maintaining my weight. … I feel like I’m just playing stronger.
Johnson was called for holding Bosa in the third quarter. From the end zone, it didn’t appear that Bosa was held on this Wendell Smallwood carry.
Johnson: I didn’t think it as a hold at all. The ref – I’m sure he’ll get looked at for that play. There was no holding involved. The guy got … flattened, that’s what happened to him. I don’t know if their d-linemen flop when they get beat.
CHIP OFF THE BLOCK
On the next play, Ertz chip blocked end Chris McCain and dropped him to the turf before going out and catching a 7-yard pass.
Chip Kelly, when he was Eagles coach, hardly ever had his tight ends or running backs chip block for tackles. The Eagles do now, but not often because Johnson and Peters hardly ever need the help.
Reich: I’ve been on teams where you literally say, ‘We have to help him on every seven-step drop or any time you think you have anything downfield at all.’ … We don’t have to help [Johnson and Peters] every time. And we probably wouldn’t have to help them at all, but there are times — just like for Carson, there are some with a quarterback that you call ‘breather plays,’ where you want a guy just to be able to get up.
The Eagles’ ball control offense gave them a decided advantage in time of possession. Ahead 26-24 with six minutes and 44 seconds left in the game, they pounded the Chargers. Ingram seemingly had no shot to get around Johnson.
Johnson: Towards that last drive they were pretty gassed.
Peters: At the end of the third going into the fourth quarter, they were wearing down and we took advantage of it.
Blount’s final three rushes iced the game. On second down, the Eagles used their jumbo package and Johnson drove defensive tackle Corey Liuget (No. 94) into the ground.
Johnson: You can fire out full force going down on a power block. If you go out of control in the run game sometimes those d-ends will swim inside of you.
A play later, Blount rumbled 15 yards for a first down and three Wentz kneel downs later the Eagles were victors. Johnson hopes the team’s fortunes won’t turn as they did last year once he started serving his suspension.
Johnson: Last year still weighs on my mind all the time. Every time I’m on the field I try to go play my best. I feel like we’re in a good situation. Everything’s right in front of us.