When the final chapter of the Philadelphia Eagles’ mercurial 2018-19 campaign is written, Nick Foles will get the lion’s share of the credit for the late-season turnaround that propelled the Birds into the playoffs. He’ll deserve it, too. However, Eagles fans would be remiss if they ignored the contributions of Lane Johnson to the postseason push that began three weeks ago in Los Angeles.

Fans tend not to spend much time dwelling on the performance of offensive linemen unless they miss a block or commit a penalty. Anonymity is a lineman’s best asset, and he will have done his job if he keeps the names of the star pass rushers on the other side of the line of scrimmage out of the mouths of the announcers.

Foles dropped back 31 times against the vaunted Rams’ pass rush. He was not sacked once. Interior rushers Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald combined for just 3 quarterback hits. The attention required to contain Donald, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, usually leaves ample opportunity for the Rams’ edge rushers to feast on quarterbacks fleeing the pocket. They didn’t sniff Foles, even though their counterparts were left on islands on either side of the line. Future Hall of Famer Jason Peters and Johnson rose to the challenge and kept their immobile quarterback upright.

In the penultimate game of the season, Johnson drew the unenviable assignment of blocking J.J. Watt. There was no help, no chip blocks from releasing tight ends or double teams to slow down the All Pro. It was a one-on-one matchup throughout the game, and Johnson consistently negated the pass rush from Watt. The protection the Eagles’ right tackle provided along with his teammates on the line allowed Foles to throw for 471 yards and 4 touchdowns. Analyst Brian Baldinger gushed over Johnson’s performance in his postgame film breakdown:

Week 16 brought a date with the Washington Redskins and Ryan Kerrigan, a thorn in the Eagles’ side throughout the Doug Pederson era. Entering the game, Kerrigan had 10.5 career sacks against the Eagles. In 2016, he torched Halapoulivaati Vaitai for 2.5 sacks and 5 additional hits on Carson Wentz. Vaitai started in place of Johnson, who was serving the first of a ten-game suspension. In the second game of that season, Kerrigan took advantage of an injured Matt Tobin and induced a strip sack of Wentz that ended the game:


That was then; this is now. Johnson held Kerrigan in check. The Redskins’ pass rusher did get to Foles once on a coverage sack, which caused the quarterback to leave the game with a rib injury. In looking at the replay, Foles erred in stepping up in the pocket and away from his protection, which enabled Kerrigan to get the easy sack. Otherwise, it was a quiet day for Kerrigan.

There was a time when it was very much an open question as to whether the Eagles could depend on their right tackle to deliver the performances he turned in over the past three weeks. Johnson’s questionable reliability had nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with his ability to manage the supplements he was taking.

Johnson has been disciplined twice for positive PED tests. A third suspension for this infraction will exile the Eagles’ tackle for at least two years. The second suspension came right after Johnson had signed an extension and the Eagles drafted Wentz. The Birds were counting on a seasoned offensive line to facilitate Wentz’s development in his rookie year. Instead, the instability caused in large part by Johnson’s absence left Wentz a sitting duck for opposing pass rushers. His performance predictably regressed.

Last season, Johnson emerged as a lynchpin along the Eagles’ offensive line. His constant presence in the lineup compensated for the extended unavailability of Jason Peters, who was lost for the season due to a triceps injury. This year, Johnson solidified his role as a stabilizing force on the right side of the offensive line.

While he may not be protecting the “blind side,” Johnson is still tasked with neutralizing edge rushers whose primary responsibility is pressuring the quarterback. His combination of quick feet and strength serve him well in this regard. Take a look at the Foles touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor in the Texans game, for instance:

Johnson kicked out of his stance at the snap of the football. He allows Watt to travel up the field and keeps the elite pass rusher to the outside, enabling Foles to step into the pocket and launch a perfect ball to Agholor, who catches the offering in stride for an eighty-three yard score.

With Johnson anchoring the right side of the line, Pederson has not had to keep a tight end on the line to chip block or worry about his inexperienced running backs having to pick up a blitzing edge rusher. Fewer resources expended to block means more options to attack the defense downfield.

Johnson’s task over the past three games has been difficult, and it does not get easier. Looming on the playoff horizon are the Chicago Bears, who boast a top-five defense and a game-changing linebacker in Khalil Mack. If Johnson draws the Mack assignment, the Eagles can rest assured that their tackle is up to the challenge:

Nick Foles may be a magician, but the Eagles’ fortunes this January will rest on their ability to win in the trenches. For this task, there are few soldiers better than Lane Johnson.

Bring on the Bears.