Lane Johnson isn’t holding back. He’s angry. He’s lost sleep. A season after making the Pro Bowl – as well as the All-Pro team – for the first time in his career, Johnson was bypassed when the NFC roster was announced earlier this week for the 2019 Pro Bowl.
Seething would be a good word to describe Johnson’s mood this week.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Johnson said on Thursday in the locker room of the NovaCare Complex, sweat pouring down his face after his post-practice lifting session. “I’m pissed about it. I’m not happy about it at all. It’s just more fuel to the fire, I guess.”
Johnson is going to need fire on Sunday against the Houston Texans and their excellent defensive front four, headed by Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt and former No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, who made his third straight Pro Bowl, a pair of move-around players who are game-changers for the Texans. Watt has 14.5 sacks this season and Clowney has eight, so they are going to be a focus for the Eagles' offense, particularly Johnson and right guard Brandon Brooks.
We’ll get into the matchup a little deeper in just a moment. First, Johnson and his reaction when the Pro Bowl roster was announced. You hear all the time that players in the league don’t put a lot of meaning into the Pro Bowl, and to a certain extent that’s true. But players also like to be recognized, particularly by their peers. Johnson was part of the Eagles’ regular-season dominance last year and he and Brooks and tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Carson Wentz were voted into the Pro Bowl, all for the first time.
Only Ertz and Brooks from the offense made the NFC team this season.
“I feel there is no Pro Bowl for right tackles. It’s all left tackles,” Johnson said. “I feel like the only reason I made it last year, and I still wasn’t starting, was because we were winning. But, it’s not just me. It’s other right tackles. That’s what bothers me the most, seeing all of these players not getting the recognition they deserve.
“I’m tired of getting doubted. I’m at a point in my career where it’s time to go. I’m ready to show my full potential. I think I had a little taste of it last year keeping my feet under me, staying away from injuries and playing good football. This will only fuel me more. It’s very disappointing.”
Johnson is naturally “internally motivated,” as he says, and he admits that his approach “causes me some stress,” but oh well. If that’s what works, keep it up, big guy. He has tossed and turned since the Pro Bowl team was announced on Tuesday night and he has honed in with just a bit more laser focus for Sunday’s game against Houston. Watt against Johnson is going to happen more often than not, and Johnson is impressed with Watt’s “elite” ability to get off at the snap of the football, his hand usage, and his instincts are also in that category.
J.J. Watt is special. Four times in his career he’s been a first-team All-Pro selection and this week he made his fifth Pro Bowl. Watt has made a full recovery from back-to-back seasons ruined by injury, and he’ll keep probing the Eagles' blocking scheme and moving up and down the line of scrimmage until he finds the hole. And then he’ll attack it and he’ll keep coming.
“It’s just not Watt,” Brooks said. “Everyone they have is a really good player. They’re good against the run and they hit you with the pass rush. They play well as a defense. A lot of those guys have been playing together for a long time and they’ve got a ton of talent, pass rushers all over the field, and they really get after it.”
It’s strength vs. strength at the line of scrimmage on Sunday and it’s vital that the Eagles win the battle, protect quarterback Nick Foles, and establish some kind of a running game.
Keep your eyes on the trenches this Sunday. That’s where this game will be won or lost for the Eagles. And when you peek over at right tackle and see Johnson, take note of the steam still coming out of his ears. He wants respect. He demands it. The only way to get it is to win these kinds of games, and deeper than that, these kinds of battles at the line of scrimmage.
“It is what it is,” Johnson said, shaking his head. “I’m an intense guy. I feel like I’m being snubbed here, but that’s OK. I’m going to go out there and do my best to do something about it.”