Eagles Wake-Up Call: Lane Johnson’s Impact
With his running back still eight yards from the end zone, Lane Johnson had already started fist pumping. Darren Sproles scampered 25 yards for a score in Johnson’s first series back from a 10-game suspension, and it was the right tackle who largely paved the way.
The Eagles drove 78 yards to open their 24-19 win over the Giants, with two rushes accounting for 42 yards that featured Johnson as a key blocker. Questions arose for weeks about what kind of shape Johnson would be in when he returned to Philadelphia, and in the first series alone, he answered them with an exclamation mark.
“It was huge to get Lane back. I can’t wait to get back and watch the tape and see some of the things that he did,” Carson Wentz said. “That was a good spark for us as an offense.”
The Eagles improved to 4-1 with Johnson in the lineup, and while the defense was stellar in those five games, Johnson has dominated every contest he’s played in this season.
On Philadelphia’s first offensive play of the game against New York, Ryan Mathews ran for 17 yards off of the right edge. Johnson shoved the Giants’ play-side defensive end into the backfield before helping to seal off the defensive tackle.
“He did a great job on that first play,” Doug Pederson said. “He just kind of picked up where he left off. … That was a great addition to get him back.”
To cap that opening drive, Johnson pulled around the right edge and sealed Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins to the inside. Sproles found a running lane in between Johnson and Zach Ertz to cut upfield, before making a defensive back miss with a sharp cut to the inside.
“Lane Johnson has simply made a huge difference already,” Cris Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast, “with the quickness, his ability to get outside [and] some of the combination blocks. Remember, this is a short week; it’s not like they had practice this week. They were running around in shorts; he hasn’t hit anybody in 10 weeks. He was brilliant on that first drive.”
The Eagles totaled 118 rushing yards against the Giants, with 76 of them coming off of the right ‘B’ and ‘C’ gaps — which are to the left and right of Johnson — per Pro Football Focus. Pederson said he felt he could run the ball to the right side more with Johnson back, and although the offensive lineman noted he “messed up a few times on some protections,” the Eagles’ head coach said Johnson’s pass blocking was “good.”
Later in the game, Johnson also helped spark Sproles’ 13-yard run in the fourth quarter, giving him a significant role in the Eagles’ three longest designed runs of the day. Johnson pushed the defensive end over top of him five yards down the field, which helped open up a huge running lane for Sproles.
“Look who’s leading the way for (Sproles) once again — Lane Johnson,” Collinsworth said. “He’s going to take [Kerry] Wynn right back and any time Darren Sproles can get a little bit of space, he turns into a punt returner and then you have a problem.”
After the game, Johnson said “it field weird” being back on the field. But for his teammates, it felt like how things are supposed to be. Johnson added that he has to be “more responsible,” he “can’t be as careless” as he’s been and he needs to “mature and grow up.”
Jordan Matthews didn’t downplay after the game how important the 26-year-old offensive lineman is to the team.
“A lot of people make a hoopla about Lane being back, which they should,” Matthews said. “He’s a piece of the puzzle. The body can’t work without one foot. We need every part of the body; every piece matters. And he’s definitely an intricate piece because he is on the offensive line.
“Not having him definitely hurt, but him just coming back, you could even tell just in the locker room just having everybody back, it kind of just had a good feeling, especially in the o-line room. I think we kind of took that feeling into this game and we were able to play much more together and that’s why we came out with a win.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Did Doug Pederson risk Carson Wentz’s future? Weekend reading.
BLG’s pick against the spread for Cowboys-Lions tonight.
College football players to watch during this week’s bowls.
Eagles injury updates: Ryan Mathews is out for the season.
“It just felt like I finally made it.” Inside Terrence Brooks’ game-ending interception.
A unique look at the Eagles’ first NFC East win through the lens of photographer Jeff Fusco.
11 things Brandon learned from the Eagles’ victory over the Giants.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
A title for a Philadelphia professional sports franchise is likely to take a while, opines the Inquirer’s Bob Brookover.
Let’s start with the Eagles. They will finish their third straight season out of the playoffs, which is only the second time that has happened in the last 29 seasons. This season also represents the first time in this century that the Eagles have had consecutive losing seasons.
All their eggs are in Carson Wentz’s basket because that’s where de facto general manager Howie Roseman decided to place them before this season. Based on the quarterback’s rookie season, it does not look like a bad place for the eggs to be, but there’s certainly no guarantee that Wentz is going to hatch into a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
… Quality cornerbacks and receivers are obviously at the top of the to-do list and running back should also be on there, too. It’s hard to imagine Roseman getting enough of what the Eagles need in one offseason to compete for a division title next year, let alone a Super Bowl.
Nelson Agholor is focued on being “not just a one-hit wonder,” writes CSN Philly’s Andrew Kulp.
Earlier in the game, Agholor dropped a pass that hit him right in the hands on a simple, short slant route, resulting in some boos from the Eagles’ faithful. His numbers and development in general this season are disappointing for a former first-round draft pick, and the 23-year-old has gone so far as to admit confidence has become an issue.
So you have to wonder what is going through Agholor’s mind anytime the ball is coming his way, and especially from 40 yard away, when the fans are already on his case.
“I just keep tracking it,” Agholor said of his touchdown. “Because it’s one of those where you get behind the defense, Carson gives you a great opportunity and you’re just like, ‘Hey, keep tracking it.’ Focus and keep tracking it.”
While it can be just as daunting at times for the Eagles playing in their own building as it is for away teams, Agholor, who was a healthy scratch against the Packers in Week 12, managed to keep his cool and bounce back.
We’ll keep you updated on the latest Eagles news and notes.