Many football analysts will rightly point out that NFL defenses now line up their best rusher on either side of the line so a right tackle is theoretically just as important as a left tackle.
I disagree with this for two reasons. Firstly, most quarterbacks in the NFL are right handed and you do not want your quarterback taking hits from his blindside. If your right tackle is having a bad game, at least your quarterback has a better chance of seeing the pressure and avoiding it or getting rid of the ball. If your left tackle is getting killed however, your quarterback is in trouble. Secondly, the tight end is normally lined up next to the right tackle, meaning it’s easier to help him out in pass protection.
Lane Johnson recently got paid like a starting left tackle but he won’t be playing there until Jason Peters is eventually cut or retires. As Peters missed so many games last year, we got to see Johnson play left tackle on a few occasions.
I went back and watched every snap Johnson played at left tackle for this piece. However, I’m only posting clips from the Cowboys game as I had more than enough clips from that one game. It was a fascinating game to watch as Johnson had to face a very talented pass rusher in Greg Hardy. I hate Hardy as much as all of you do too, but I was worried that the narrative that ‘Johnson destroyed Hardy’ probably began because people really wanted to believe it to be true.
I’ll post a few clips from the Cowboys game so I can break down Lane Johnson and whether I think he can be a star at left tackle in the future for the Eagles. As usual, I can’t post clips of every play so I normally post an example of something I see routinely.
Let’s get to the film!
This is a great play to start with. Johnson gets into his pass set really quickly which is important, after doing that he gets his hands on Greg Hardy’s chest and pushes him backwards which completely halts Hardy’s momentum. Hardy tries to respond with a counter move but Johnson uses his hands well. This is a nice play by Johnson and it shows the strength of his initial punch.
This is a play that shows off Johnson’s athleticism, his feet move quickly and despite Hardy getting a really quick get off Johnson manages to stay with him. His technique isn’t perfect here but he knows the ball is coming out of Bradford’s hands quickly so he doesn’t have to worry about the counter move too much. On another note, good catch Josh Huff!
I really like this play, Hardy is lined up quite wide but Johnson just goes straight after him. Pause the clip when Johnson initiates contact with Hardy and look at Dennis Kelly at right tackle. Kelly is letting the rusher come on to him whereas Johnson is taking on Hardy instantly. Both ways can work but I love offensive lineman who dominate personally, it’s why I loved breaking down the tape on Brandon Brooks (you can read that here). Johnson gets both his hands perfectly on Hardy’s chest and Hardy tries to win with a bull rush but Johnson is too strong.
Here’s Johnson doing the opposite to the last clip, here he doesn’t initiate contact but when Hardy gets near him he gets a strong punch to his chest. Johnson does get knocked back here but he’s got a decent pass set and he keeps his head up which means he doesn’t fall backwards and is able to stand his ground against a fierce bull rush.
This is a great block. Johnson gets into his pass set quickly and his technique is really solid, he keeps his head up and uses his arms well to strike Hardy in his chest. Hardy tries to rip his hand and get round the edge but Johnson has the athleticism and quick footwork to prevent him from doing so. Hardy simply cannot get Johnson’s hands off his chest here which is impressive. The way he keeps his feet moving through Hardy’s initial contact is really good and he uses his long arms well.
Here Johnson gets beat by Hardy, his biggest problem is that he lunges forward and drops his head when trying to strike Hardy. Hardy is too good not to capitalize on this and he easily swims past Johnson, leaving him to block air. Luckily for Johnson, Bradford gets the ball out quickly but he gets beat pretty bad here.
On the last play, Johnson got beat badly and should have given up a sack. Here he gives up a sack but I’m not sure he’s entirely at fault. When the defense are running a stunt like this, the left tackle and left guard need to communicate better so they can swap who they’re blocking, assuming this is how the Eagles are coached to deal with stunts. This highlights why it can be hard for a right tackle to simply swap to left tackle, it helps when an offensive line have played together for a while.
Final play I’ll show of Johnson pass blocking, here he gets beat by Hardy’s use of hands and he ends up lunging forward and blocking air. For most lineman, once they lunge like this and get nowhere the play is dead. Johnson isn’t like most lineman though, he’s ridiculously athletic. Despite getting completely beat here, he just about manages to recover and get his hands on Hardy again which gives Bradford an extra half a second to get the ball out. Not many offensive lineman have the athleticism to recover after getting so badly beat like this.
Let’s move on to some clips of Johnson run blocking seeing as that is his real strength. Here again he gets pushed back by Hardy but keeps his balance and doesn’t let go of Hardy’s chest and it leads to a huge hole for Murray to exploit.
This is a great block, he really does move Hardy back by getting his hands on his chest early and keeping his legs moving whilst initiating contact and gets a great blocking angle which enables him to completely take Hardy out of the play.
Johnson gets beat here, but I wanted to show this play because I think it’s a great example of a major issue with Chip Kelly’s offense. I think Chip’s offense in 2015 made certain offensive lineman look worse because it asked them to make really difficult blocks. When you can’t audible at the line, you’re committed to running a certain play even if the defensive front isn’t what you were expecting. Also, defensive lineman seemed to know what play was coming quite often and this makes it even harder to block them. Johnson can’t block 95 here but I’m not really sure if he really has a chance, the angle he has to take here makes this block extremely difficult. I’m not the only one who noticed this either.
Back to the good stuff, this is a lovely block. He initiates contact well and literally moves the Cowboys defender back with ease. Even after pushing him back, he isn’t satisfied and he really finishes aggressively and well here. You just have to love plays like this.
Let’s end on another good play, here he takes a good angle and just drives the Cowboys defensive tackle to the ground. The last two clips show how he’s a very aggressive run blocker and he really does want to finish the plays well.
Considering this was Lane Johnson’s first game at left tackle all season, he handled himself pretty well. It can’t be easy to suddenly switch to left tackle midway through the season after practicing at right tackle all season. Having to face Greg Hardy isn’t easy either, despite being an idiot he’s a really good player. Sadly he didn’t ‘destroy’ Greg Hardy but very few left tackles do and it was Johnson’s first game there all season.
I have no fears about Johnson being the Eagles future left tackle, he’s good enough to play there already. His run blocking is excellent, he can sustain blocks well and can generate push on a consistent basis. Sometimes he takes a poor angle but it’s hard to know if that’s his fault or whether the defense knew what was coming. He has long arms and he uses them well to strike the defensive lineman in the chest both in the run game and when pass protecting.
His pass protection has flaws but for the most part it looked pretty good. When he tried to strike the opponent and initiate contact he would occasionally lunge forward and his head would fall forward which would cause him to lose balance. This makes him an easy target for swim or rip moves and defensive lineman were able to strike him off balance and get around him.
However, his freakish athleticism and long arms also let him recover when he gets beat which is something very few players can do. Obviously in an ideal world he would never get beat, but this is never going to happen and the way he can regain his balance after being beat is impressive. Although his technique can be questionable at times, for the most part he gets into a strong pass set very quickly and has really good foot quickness. He plays with a good pad level and is able to mirror pass rushers off the edge and stop them from getting the corner.
I would have absolutely no problem with the Eagles moving on from Jason Peters at the end of the season and letting Lane Johnson take over. Johnson will probably have some bad games at times but for the most part he should be really solid. He’s still only 26 years old and he didn’t play much as an offensive lineman until late into his career which means he should still be progressing. If he continues to improve he could develop into one of the NFLs premier left tackles, but he still has a way to go before he’s at that level.
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