What’s at stake for the Eagles with the Lane Johnson injury?

lane johnson
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 22: Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Tackle Lane Johnson (65), Guard Brandon Brooks (79), and Offensive Tackle Jason Peters (71) adjust for a block in the first half during the game between the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles on September 22, 2019 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Lane Johnson expects to return to the lineup for the Philadelphia Eagles when they return to action in the NFC Divisional Round. The four-time Pro Bowler suffered a torn adductor against the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve.

The desire to play through the pain is admirable, but it’s fair to wonder if a significant injury to a key offensive lineman will handcuff the Eagles during the postseason.

The Value of Lane Johnson

The Eagles have a 59-21-1 record since 2016 in games Lane Johnson has started and a 10-30 record without him. Considering how difficult it is to pinpoint the impact one offensive lineman has on a team, could the record be coincidentally skewed? Not really.

Johnson has allowed two sacks in his last 47 games dating back to the start of the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus. He is as reliable to play his position as any player in the NFL when he is healthy.

Zach Berman of The Athletic put it best, saying “It’s kind of like air conditioning in the summer; you might not always appreciate it when it’s on, but you’ll definitely notice when it’s broken.”

The success of the team in recent history has also correlated with the health of the offensive line as a unit. During the playoffs after the 2017 season, Jeff Stoutland’s group reached another level and allowed Nick Foles, a quarterback with limited mobility, to stand in the pocket with time to set and fire.

The 2020 season went off the rails in Philadelphia, and injuries up front played a major part. The Eagles used 14 different starting combinations along the offensive line in 16 games. Lane Johnson battled an ankle injury and came in and out of the lineup for the first 10 games. He missed the final six games, and the Eagles faltered even worse with a 1-5 record.

The Eagles developed an identity with an overwhelming rushing attack during the second half of head coach Nick Sirianni’s first season in 2021. The return of Lane Johnson from a short absence for mental health reasons played a major factor in the confidence Sirianni had to pivot to a focus on the running game. The 6-foot-6 mammoth even caught a touchdown in a feel-good moment in Week 16 against the New York Giants. 

The 2022 Eagles

Analysts consistently point to the Eagles having the best offensive line in the NFL. One of the most reputable position groups in the league all of a sudden didn’t look like a strength in two games without Lane Johnson.

Seven-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan got to Gardner Minshew for three sacks off the edge when the Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints in Week 17. A backup quarterback without great protection became a major factor in Philadelphia’s inability to put points on the board.

The Eagles survived Week 18 with the one thing that mattered: a victory to clinch the top seed in the NFC. However, they didn’t impressively contain a group of reserve Giants defenders.

New York defensive coordinator Wink Martindale called the highest rate of blitzes in the NFL this season.  Cornerback Nick McCloud blitzed off the edge successfully on Sunday, and the Philadelphia offensive tackles didn’t properly adjust. McCloud got into the backfield twice on the left side without being touched by Jordan Mailata and twice on the right side around Johnson’s replacement Jack Driscoll.

Driscoll did a solid job as a spot starter in the guard position thanks to the preparation of Jeff Stoutland University. However, the long-time offensive line coach doesn’t completely eliminate concerns about a major injury. The dropoff from a standout player like Lane Johnson to any reserve is consistently noticeable.

At the end of the day, these coaches can be as great as they possibly can be, but without talent, it doesn’t help,” Howie Roseman said when asked about Stoutland at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.

If one of the most talented players on the team isn’t fully healthy, the Eagles face a major disadvantage to running their offense efficiently during the postseason.

Injury to Lane Johnson

Johnson will put off the necessary surgery until the offseason, so he will be available for the playoffs. Ian Rappaport called the decision “kind of wild” considering the pain involved with this injury.

It’s not great for those of us who value our insides, but Lane Johnson is just built different. He’s just built different. He consulted with a lot of experts (and) found out that he could not injure his adductor more if he plays through it, so he is planning to do this. I don’t know of another lineman who has tried to do this,” he said on NFL Network.

When Johnson finally stopped playing through the pain in 2020, he gave the media blunt admission about his medical status. 

Playing through pain can affect performance. The injury forced him to exit multiple games early, and he didn’t look like the same player he’s been at the height of his NFL career.

Fans easily identified a logical conclusion about the struggles on offense after the Week 17 loss to the Saints. Jalen Hurts didn’t play, and his return would fix the inefficiencies.

Taking arguably the most valuable player in the NFL off the field will unquestionably affect an offense. An offense is also completely different when its second most valuable player isn’t playing his best football because of physical limitations.

The Eagles need the real Lane Johnson, and there’s simply no way to guarantee that we’re going to see that during the postseason.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire