Lane Johnson is holding court, brushing off questions about the significance of the Eagles playing their former quarterback on Sunday. The answer has consistently been, "It's a storyline for the fans, not the players and coaches. Johnson says that nobody is making this game out to be anything other than what it is, an NFC East game in a stadium that seems to always bring strange moments and focusing instead on what he always focuses on: A Washington front seven that can take control of a game.
"They're very good," Johnson said. "Montez Sweat, I feel like he's a little bit bigger this year. Really good on the edge and then obviously the interior is probably the strength of their defense with (Daron) Payne and (Jonathan) Allen. Payne is playing out of his mind right now, so it will be a tough matchup. They've got an active linebacker crew, too, so they've always been pretty good up front and it's always been a good fight for us."
It's going to be a good fight because that's just the way it is in this league, and there is no offensive line in the league that keeps its demeanor the same and accepts each week as a new challenge as readily and earnestly as the Eagles' group under Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland. Johnson and his linemates have a remarkable ability to flatline their emotions and stay focused on the moment, and it's one of the many reasons they are so good.
"You treat every day the same," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "It's what Coach Stout always tells us. Don't look ahead. Don't buy into the hype. Just keep your focus."
So, that's what the offensive line is doing. As the media futzes around the locker room asking about the No. 1-ranked offense in the league led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, and as they stop by the lockers of wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, and then sit down and chat with tight end Dallas Goedert, it always comes back to the big boys in the trenches. That's where it all starts. It feels like a broken record because, thankfully, it is. The Eagles are having so much success offensively – and the truth is, they haven't even put together a full game – because they have an offensive line that is going to consistently be there week in and week out.
"If you don't bring it every day and detail your work, it will catch up to you and you'll get exposed in this league," center Jason Kelce said. "There are no shortcuts to success. So, you accept the responsibility to be at your best every day. I know that sometimes it's hard to have that peak level but then there's Stout giving everything he has and it helps all of us. We know how much of the success of the offense falls on our shoulders and, really, we love that."
Here the Eagles are, preparing for Sunday's NFC East-opening game on the schedule and the offensive line is very well aware of what can happen if it isn't working together against a Washington defense that is smarting after a tough game in Detroit on Sunday. All week, no doubt, Washington has heard from the media and the fans about its defense. A week of seething and stewing and a renewed commitment to bouncing back.
You're going to see on Sunday at FedEx Field a Washington defense that comes out with all kinds of energy and emotion and, yes, something to prove. How many times have reporters asked those defensive players "How do you stop this Eagles offense?" Or, "Why are the Eagles so great?" Etc, etc, etc. After hearing that for a few days, it ticks players off.
The Eagles know they're going to get Washington's best on Sunday. The offensive line, then, has to set the tone.
"Those are the guys that make it happen for us," running back Miles Sanders said. "Every one of us who touches the ball knows that. It's a great group that makes our jobs easier. I think they're the best in the league and they go out and prove it every time we play."
In a way, then, the Eagles' offensive line also has a bull's-eye on its back: Every defensive front seven wants to make a name for itself against the Eagles. An offensive line that has so many things going for it again has to rise to the moment on the road in a hostile (even with so many Eagles fans who will no doubt be there) environment that is a tough, tough place to play.
"That's the fun part," Johnson said. "We know we're going get the best of every defense every week. That's part of the business and it's why we know we have to work together and stay focused and not let any of these distractions get to us. We block it all out. We have enough to think about."