Lane Johnson has faced a murderers’ row of pass rushers this season.
The Eagles’ right tackle has lined up across from the Redskins’ Ryan Kerrigan (twice), the Chargers’ Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, the Broncos’ Von Miller, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence and the Raiders’ Khalil Mack, and has muzzled them all.
Yet another major challenge awaits Johnson on Saturday when he’ll take on the league’s 2016 sack king, Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley, in the Eagles’ first playoff game in four years.
Beasley had 15½ sacks last season. He has six this year, including one in last week’s wild-card win over the Rams and one in the Falcons’ Week 17 win over Carolina that punched their playoff ticket.
“He beats a lot of tackles with speed off the edge,’’ Johnson said. “A lot of tackles line up real wide against him and they’re not real quick in getting back, and he’ll beat them around the edge.
“I respect him. I don’t fear any player anymore. But he’s a good player. Quick twitch. Similar to Mack. Maybe not quite as explosive, but he’s one of the more quick-twitchy guys in the league.’’
Johnson gave up just three sacks this season, none to the aforementioned group. One was to the Raiders’ Jihad Ward in Week 16 when Ward ran a stunt around Mack and Johnson failed to slide over and pick him up.
He gave up one in Week 8 to the 49ers’ Leger Douzable, who has 8½ career sacks in nine NFL seasons. And he gave up one back in Week 1 to the Redskins’ Matt Ioannidis.
His 20 total pressures allowed – the three sacks, four hits and 13 hurries – are the third fewest in the league among offensive tackles, according to numbers-crunching Pro Football Focus, behind only the Packers’ David Bakhtiari (12) and the Bucs’ Demar Dotson (14). But both Bakhtiari and Dotson played more than 100 fewer pass-play snaps than Johnson.
Johnson’s outstanding play this season earned him his first Pro Bowl invitation. The honors kept coming last week when he was a first-team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press.
“It started Week 1 in Washington,’’ Johnson said. “I hadn’t really played very well at the Redskins’ place [FedEx Field] in my career. But I had a good game.
“It started there and kept snowballing. Against Bosa and the Chargers, my confidence shot up. Against Von [Miller]. It just kept going up.’’
The guy who came out of Oklahoma in 2013 wondering whether he was good enough to play in the NFL, now feels there isn’t an edge rusher on the planet he can’t handle.
“All the guys that I’ve played against over my career, especially this year, just going against the best, who else am I going to see?’’ he asked. “Godzilla? I’ve seen every [top] pass rusher. It’s not like there’s an unknown out there.
“I respect every guy I go against, but I don’t fear them.’’
Johnson entered this season driven by the slings and arrows of disrespect. By the belief that many people, including fellow players, viewed him as a steroid cheat after two positive PED tests and last year’s 10-game suspension. By the belief that he never would be considered one of the league’s top offensive tackles as long as he played on the right side.
Then he made the Pro Bowl, and then he made All-Pro. What will he use for motivation now?
“All that doesn’t matter next year,’’ he said. “It’s going to be a clean slate. If I have a bad season [next year], people aren’t going to remember that I made All-Pro [this year]. It’s short-lived. It’s what have you done lately.
“I appreciate [the recognition]. But I know that guys are going to try to go that much harder against me. So I need to be prepared. I know what’s coming.
“That’s one of the things I talked to JP [Jason Peters] about. When he got all of his accolades – I’m not comparing myself to him – but he said, ‘Hey, it’s not going to get easier. It’s only going to get harder.’’’
Johnson has spent most of this season protecting one of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks. Carson Wentz was Houdini. He could elude rushers and get outside the pocket and extend plays. He could negate a blocking mistake by Johnson or one of his other linemen.
But Wentz is out for the season. His replacement, Nick Foles, never will be mentioned in the same sentence or same paragraph or even the same book with Houdini.
Foles is a classic pocket passer. Johnson, though, suggested that, in many ways, it’s actually easier to block for Foles than it is for Wentz.
“We know the play isn’t going to be extended as much,’’ he said. “It’s not that it helps me out, but I know where Nick is going to be.
“From that standpoint, I know I have to keep my set lines at a certain point. I know he’s going to get the ball out pretty quick. So, it’s a little easier from that standpoint.’’
Johnson is one of the Eagles’ most cooperative players from a media standpoint. He talks after lopsided wins and heartbreaking losses. There are very few days when he isn’t open for business at his locker during media availability.
But he went on a rare word strike for a couple of days after the Eagles’ ugly Christmas night win over the Raiders. Initially, it was thought to have been a reaction to seeing his critical post-game comments about the officiating in print, even though he made a point of telling reporters to print what he said.
But this week, he said it had more to do with his frustration over the disrespect the media was showing the Eagles since Foles replaced Wentz.
“What bothered me was we were 12-2 and we were being treated like we were the Browns,’’ he said.
“But it happens. Although we don’t like it, it’s a good motivator. Having people write not-good things about you is the best motivator there is. Because then you can go and change it.
“Truth is, I’d rather have guys doubting us than patting us on the back heading into this game.’’