When the 2017 Eagles schedule was released in the spring, right tackle Lane Johnson took some time to digest the challenge in front of him: He went through, game by game, and started the scouting report on the edge pass rushers he would be facing. The list, needless to say, was impressive.
In the NFC East alone, Johnson would see Washington's Ryan Kerrigan, Dallas's DeMarcus Lawrence, and New York's Jason Pierre-Paul. Kerrigan was the task in Week 1, followed by the first NFC West opponent in Kansas City, featuring Justin Houston. There was the Chargers' 1-2 pass-rush punch of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram before Carolina's Julius Peppers and Denver's Von Miller and Michael Bennett in Seattle.
On Monday night, Johnson will see another pass-rushing stud in the form of Oakland's Khalil Mack, in his fourth season and already one of the very best in the NFL. Johnson says Mack is "right up there with Miller" as a pass rusher, primarily because he's so fast off the ball and has power to boot.
"It's another great test, but if you want to be the best," Johnson says, "you have to beat the best."
Johnson has done that this year, after challenging himself throughout the offseason. A 10-game suspension in 2016, Johnson's second suspension of his career, affected Johnson deeply and he atoned by committing himself to a grueling physical routine in the offseason. Johnson was ready to go from Day 1.
He's been brilliant all season, giving up a handful of sacks and dominating the rest of the time. As good as Johnson has been in pass protection, he's been just as proficient using his athleticism in the run game, where he and right guard Brandon Brooks, have crushed defenses. The right side of the offensive line has been able to control the line of scrimmage every week.
. The tackles are concentrating on getting off the ball quickly and holding up against Mack's relentless chase.
It is, again, a huge challenge for Johnson in a season filled with them. His play is a reminder of just how important it is to have a standout bookend - the Eagles were 5-1 in the six games Johnson played last season, giving him a 17-3 record in 2016-17 - securing the edge.
"I'm not gonna let down," Johnson said this week. "I've made mistakes in the past, so to get recognized for the Pro Bowl, that's gratifying to me with all of the negatives in my career. That stuff is never gonna happen again. I just see myself getting better and better every year."