Jalen Hurts notched his first win as a starting quarterback in the NFL playoffs on Saturday night, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a 38-7 win over the New York Giants. After the victory, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni praised his quarterback, comparing him to living legend Michael Jordan.
But Hurts, who was playing through a shoulder injury suffered near the end of the season, was not the only member of the Philadelphia offense working through pain. Right tackle Lane Johnson was back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a torn adductor a few weeks against the Dallas Cowboys.
Johnson’s return also drew praise from around the Eagles’ locker room.
“He’s a warrior,” said the Eagles quarterback. “He’s a true warrior and a very important piece of this team. He’s been doing great things for a very long time, and I’m very grateful to have him. We’re grateful to have him and I’m happy that he’s kind of coming out of this thing clean.”
Johnson’s linemate, Jordan Mailata, talked about Johnson’s decision to delay the surgery needed to repair the tear, so he could return for Philadelphia’s playoff run:
“It means the world, man. It means the world. Sacrificing his body for the boys. Just being selfless and getting out there as fast as he can. And then this week, when he was like, ‘I’m ready to go,’ I was like, ‘Crazy.’ He looked great in practice and he looked great tonight. He’s a machine.”
Sirianni himself also marveled at Johnson’s return, and his leadership “Obviously having Lane, Lane is the best tackle in the NFL, so to have him back and just shutting down a side, that’s huge. It was awesome to have him back. He makes us go. That entire offensive line makes us go.”
Johnson showed almost no signs of the injury in his return to the field and was as agile – and powerful – as ever. Those two traits showed up on this play from late in the first quarter, with the right tackle tasked with handling rookie pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux off the edge:
Johnson is fluid in his kick step off the line of scrimmage but then shows the strength in his hands, firing them into Thibodeaux’s upper chest to control the pass rusher. That gives Hurts enough time to find A.J. Brown to move the chains.
The right tackle was imposing in the running game as well. Philadelphia was dominant in the running game, racking up 268 yards on 44 rushing attempts. That worked out to an average of 6.1 yards per attempt, and the Eagles averaged 0.40 Expected Points Added per Rushing Attempt against the Giants.
Philadelphia was even more impressive running on late downs. On third and fourth downs Saturday night, the Eagles averaged a whopping 1.84 EPA per run.
On this play from the second quarter, take note of Johnson’s lateral mobility. He is facing a defensive tackle aligned on his inside shoulder, and right guard Isaac Seumalo looks to give Johnson some help before climbing to the second level. But the right tackle slides inside of the tackle and handle him, allowing Seumalo to get to the linebacker:
Miles Sanders takes the handoff on this inside zone running play and rips off a 12-yard gain thanks to the blocking up front.
On one of those successful late-down runs, a 3rd and 1 play in the first quarter, Johnson aligned at left tackle. Watch as he helps erase two defenders, giving Kenneth Gainwell a path to the edge:
And if you want to know what this game meant to Johnson, watch the right tackle on this 14-yard run from the fourth quarter:
With the Eagles facing another third down, Gainwell takes the handoff from Hurts and slices through the interior of the line, just inside a block thrown by Johnson on the edge. As the running back bursts into the secondary, Johnson begins to celebrate, first by pointing for a first down and then by running down his teammate, to celebrate with him after the play ends.
Regardless of who wins Sunday evening between the San Francisco 49ers, and the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles will face a tough defensive front in the NFC Championship Game. Either they’ll be squaring off with Nick Bosa and company, or tangling again with Micah Parsons and the Cowboys’ defensive line.
Either way, as Sirianni pointed out after the win over New York, the Eagles’ offensive line is the engine that makes their offense go.
Having Johnson back makes for one heck of an engineer.