Changing Lanes to First Place?
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In many ways, All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson has been the pulse of the Eagles during the Doug Pederson era.
In Pederson's rookie season as a head coach, Philadelphia was very successful when Johnson was on the field. Unfortunately, over half of the All-Pro right tackle's season was lost to a PED suspension with the final numbers tallying the Eagles at 5-1 with the Texas native and just 2-8 without him.
During the 2017-18 season Johnson nearly went the distance as the best RT in football (he did miss one game with a concussion) and Philadelphia went 16-3 en route to a Super Bowl LII championship.
This season has been more uneven as Johnson has battled through injuries which would have kept a typical player on the sideline -- first a high-ankle sprain and than an MCL sprain -- ultimately missing just one contest during an underachieving 4-6 start.
It's no coincidence that the Eagles have won two consecutive games for the first time this season and are preparing to play Dallas for first place in the NFC East on Sunday just as Johnson has started to get healthier.
Everything has improved up front for Philadelphia in wins over the New York Giants and Washington Redskins from the pass protection to the run blocking as well as the timing in the screen game.
Just as the season is headed toward the stretch run perhaps the best offensive line in football is playing up to its reputation again.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, neither Johnson or Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brook allowed a pressure against the Redskins and have allowed just four in the last three weeks (Brooks with one, Johnson with three). Over that span, Johnson has improved his season grade to No. 5 in the NFL among all offensive tackles and third among RTs, behind only Kansas City's Mitchell Schwartz and Ryan Ramcyzk of New Orleans.
You might have already guessed that the Eagles' loss to Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field last month was the one game Johnson had to sit out this season so in hindsight perhaps it was a logical loss.
“I just couldn’t go. I tried,” said Johnson, who suffered his MCL sprain in the game against Jacksonville in London two weeks earlier. “It was an awful feeling not being out there with the guys playing the Cowboys. I felt terrible.”
If there is one team Johnson always wants to play it's the Cowboys after growing up in Groveton, Tex., less than a three-hour drive to Dallas up I-45.
“It’s historically special and this week is no different,” Johnson said. “For me, coming from Texas, I know what football is down there, what it means. Really, it’s just a privilege to play in these games, especially with what’s on the line for this game. They’ve got a good team, they’re on the up and up. We’re finding our way, slowly but surely. It will be a good contest.”
Much is made of the Eagles' playoff probabilities entering this game. Win and the chance of reaching the postseason spikes to 56 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, lose and it shrinks to five percent.
Maybe the key number, however, is the probability of Philadelphia winning when Johnson is the lineup.
“The Cowboys, it’s always special. It never fades," Johnson said. "This game, with so much at stake, it’s huge and it’s going to be a fun game to be a part of.”
973espn.com Prediction: Eagles 24, Cowboys 21
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen