Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is spending plenty of time this week watching footage of Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller, whom he calls the game’s best pass rusher.
But Johnson’s foray into the Miller crates started long before the schedule turned to Week 9.
The Eagles had just put the finishing touches on their 33-10 win over the 49ers on Sunday when Johnson, still miffed about the offense’s sluggish first half, was asked about his imminent matchup against the five-time Pro Bowl rush linebacker.
His response was revealing.
“I think he’s the best player in the NFL,” Johnson said. “You just go back and watch what he did against the Cowboys, he’s just unreal.”
The Broncos and Cowboys played Week 2 in Denver. The game started at 4:25 p.m. By kickoff of that game, the Eagles were wrapping up their 27-20 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead before hitting the showers and heading for the airport.
Johnson couldn’t have seen the Cowboys-Broncos game in real time, so clearly he’d been studying Miller since before the Eagles and 49ers clashed last Sunday.
“I know how good he is,” Johnson said. “I know what kind of player he is. I know how disruptive [he is], how he can wreck a game single-handedly. You saw that in the Super Bowl a couple years ago.”
Those who questioned why Eagles coach Doug Pederson would keep Johnson on the right side after Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters was lost for the season with torn knee ligaments are about to find out the method behind the madness.
Miller most commonly lines up across the right tackle. He has seven sacks in seven games this season, putting him well on pace for his fourth straight double-digit sack season.
The three-time All-Pro has 80.5 sacks in 95 career games, with two coming in his team’s 42-17 trouncing of the Cowboys that Johnson had already been studying.
“He’s the quickest guy in the league,” Johnson said. “You see how explosive he is out of his stance. He’s a 4-4 [speed] guy. Unbelievable balance. People sleep on his power. You go back and watch film, he has power in the bull rush. Just really cat-like quickness. I don’t think nobody can compare to him as far as that.”
If there’s one area the Eagles must tighten up for the second half, it’s protecting quarterback Carson Wentz. The second-year phenom has emerged into an MVP candidate by leading the NFL in touchdown passes and in third-down passing, but the number of hits he’s absorbed week after week has concerned coaches and Wentz’s teammates.
After the Broncos, next up for the Eagles – after the bye week — is the NFC East rival Cowboys, whose left defensive end, DeMarcus Lawrence, currently leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks.
The Eagles have seen heavier than average blitzing this season, so it’s vital that Johnson keeps Miller and Lawrence from single-handedly wrecking games.
Johnson also has matchups remaining against Seattle’s Micheal Bennett and Oakland’s Khalil Mack, rushers who also line up over right tackle. Bennett, with 5.5 sacks already, is on pace for his second double-digit sack total in three years. Mack, who’s made All-Pro twice in his first three seasons, has 30.5 sacks in his last 40 games.
There will also be division rematches against Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and Lawrence in December.
“Everyone has a pretty good rush nowadays,” Johnson said.
That’s why executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman extended the 2014 fourth overall pick for five years and $56 million before the 2016 season.
Wentz’s Harry Houdini pocket act has helped him escape some major pressure, but he’s also been sacked 22 times. Only five NFL quarterbacks have been dropped more.
Some of those hits are on linemen, some are on blitz pick-up from running backs, some are on Wentz, who occasionally holds onto the ball too long.
Regardless, the hit toll rises by the week. It only takes one to send him to the sidelines and derail the special season the 7-1 Eagles have going for them.
Which is probably why Johnson seemed more miffed than normal after his team’s 23-point win over the 49ers.
“It was just not what we’re capable of,” he said, “And from that standpoint I’m disappointed. We weren’t pretty offensively in the first half, and I’m disappointed in that and the way we played. We weathered the storm.”
More turbulence is on the way.
— Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.
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