Redskins-Eagles: Johnson’s Presence Could be the Difference
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles are making the short trek down the I-95 corridor Sunday to face off against their NFC East rivals in Washington and the team believes it has found the right "Lane" to ensure the trip is a success.
Lane Johnson didn’t play in either of Philadelphia's two losses to the Redskins last season and let's just say his absence was noticeable.
Washington has won five straight against the Eagles overall and was the only NFC East team to sweep the Birds last season even though the other two teams, the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, were the playoff clubs from the division.
The Redskins topped Philadelphia 27-20 in Week 6 and again by a 27-22 score in Week 14, both contests falling during the span of Johnson's 10-game PED suspension.
Furthermore, Carson Wentz was sacked nine times in the two setbacks and noted-Eagles killer Ryan Kerrigan, the player Johnson would have been matched up against most of the time, had a hand in seven of those takedowns.
Kerrigan had 2 1/2 sacks in the Week 6 game as he made Halapoulivaati Vaitai's first NFL start a Freddy Krueger-level nightmare while the next time it was the now departed Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin playing turnstile to the underrated edge rusher with the non-stop motor.
"You can put a lot of the losses on me not being with the team but it just motivates me to go out there and play harder this year," Johnson surmised Wednesday at his locker after the Eagles' first full-scale practice for the season opener.
Johnson, of course, is regarded as one of the better right tackles in football and Philadelphia finished 5-1 when he was in the lineup last season versus just 2-8 when he was absent.
“It’s good to have Lane back, obviously," head coach Doug Pederson said. “To have him back and the confidence he has there, it should be a good matchup all day."
Kerrigan has averaged over 10 sacks per year over the last three seasons and has made a habit of living in the Eagles' backfield with 9 1/2 sacks against Philadelphia during his career.
It's Johnson's job to stop the carnage and the veteran isn't shying away from that job description even taking pen to paper for The Players’ Tribune last month.
“Let me tell you what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks," Johnson wrote. “This team is going to go down in D.C. and whup some ass against the Redskins."
Johnson refused to back off the bulletin-board material on Wednesday.
“I don’t care what people thought," he said. “If I’m the guy that sets the tone, so be it. All it is is trash talk."
Sunday the talk needs to be backed up, however, and Johnson insists emotions will never be a part of his plan.
“Usually, if you get too emotional, you don’t play as well as you want," he said.
The numbers say when Johnson is on the field the Eagles win.
"I just gotta stay on the field," Johnson said. "I’m more motivated than ever to go out there and do my job the best that I can."
973espn.com Week 1 Prediction: Eagles 24, Redskins 20
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen