Eagles

Gunn on One: Lane Johnson on his family's love for the Cowboys

Gunn on One: Lane Johnson on his family's love for the Cowboys

Trench warfare will be watched closely in this Eagles-Cowboys matchup. Recently I stepped to the line of scrimmage to face right tackle Lane Johnson for the latest Gunn on One. Lane talked about going back home, who’s the best right tackle in the game, and his upcoming one on one matchup.

Gunn: You’re from Texas, so what’s it like to have family and friends who want to see you do well, but will be just as happy if the Cowboys beat the Eagles?

Johnson: That’s all I’ve been dealing with for five years, so there will be a little less tickets this year, that’s all I gotta say (laughter). If they want to root for the Cowboys, I have a little less seats for them in the stadium that day.

Gunn: Are you the best right tackle in the game today?

Johnson: I feel like I am, not arrogantly, but I try to put good stuff on tape. I try to have that wow factor in games.

Gunn: You get to face a guy named DeMarcus Lawrence who currently leads the NFL in sacks with 11.5. That’s more than he’s had in his previous three seasons in the league combined. When you look at him on film right now what jumps out about the way he’s playing at such a high level?

Johnson: I see a guy that’s pretty similar to me, a hungry guy. One thing that I think that has improved with him is his playing strength, and his hands. He’s really good with his hands. He’s a lot better than what he has been in the past. He’s been striking guys that are leaning or punching, trying to put their hands in his chest. He’s really good at separating himself, getting distance, and chopping hands. I have to be keyed in on every play.

You can see my extended conversation with Lane Sunday on Eagles PreGame Live between 6:30 and 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Record-setting Saints offense laying in wait for Eagles

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USA Today Images

Record-setting Saints offense laying in wait for Eagles

What will the Eagles be dealing with this weekend in New Orleans?

One of the hottest quarterbacks in NFL history.

One of the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history.

One of the most productive wide receivers in NFL history.

That's all.

The Eagles, who fell to 4-5 Sunday with a home loss to the Cowboys, take on the hottest team in the NFL Sunday, the 8-1 Saints, winners of eight straight games. Kickoff at the Superdome is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. EST.

Here's a look at what the Eagles are up against:

• The Saints have scored 331 points, sixth-most in NFL history after nine games. That’s 15 more points per game than the Eagles have scored this year.

• The Saints have already scored 40 points five times, joining the 2013 Broncos, 2000 Rams and 1949 49ers as the fourth team to score 40 points five times this early in a season. The NFL record for 40-point games in a season is six by seven teams, most recently the 2013 Broncos.

• The Saints are averaging 37.3 points at home, which puts them on pace for the fifth-most points in NFL history at home. The Saints set the record of 41.1 in 2011.

• The Saints have 235 first downs, fourth-most in NFL history after nine games. The record is 259 by the 2012 Saints.

• Drew Brees is completing 77.3 percent of his passes, by far the highest in NFL history after nine games. The previous high was Tom Brady’s 73.2 percent in 2007. Brees has thrown 304 passes this year, and only 69 have been incomplete. In his last five games, Brees has thrown 13 touchdowns and 30 incomplete passes. 

• Brees’ 123.8 passer rating is third-highest in NFL history after nine games, behind only Brady’s 131.8 in 2007 and Aaron Rodgers’ 130.7 in 2011.

• In his career, Brees ranks second in NFL history with 509 touchdown passes (30 behind Peyton Manning), first in passing yards (73,046), fourth in wins (150), first in accuracy (67.3 percent) and ninth in interception percentage (one every 41.9 attempts).

• Brees has completed at least 66 percent of his passes in an NFL-record 11 straight home games and 20 of his last 21. 

• Brees and Brady share the NFL record with 123 career game with a passer rating of 100 or higher. 

• Michael Thomas has 78 receptions, second-most in NFL history after nine games. Only Julio Jones (80 in 2015) has ever had more at this point in a season. Adam Thielen also has 78 this year, and Zach Ertz has 75, fourth-most ever after nine games.

• Thomas has four 10-catch games this year. That’s the most in NFL history at this point in a season, tied with three players, including Ertz this year.

Film shows why screen didn't work, how Cowboys knew it was coming

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NFL

Film shows why screen didn't work, how Cowboys knew it was coming

After all that went wrong on Sunday night, the Eagles still had the ball with a chance to move down the field and at least tie the game late in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys. 

But first they needed to make this play and they couldn’t. 

With 2:00 left in the game, their screen pass on 3rd-and-2 from the Cowboys’ 30-yard line didn’t work. In fact, it lost five yards and set up a 4th-and-7 that they missed converting by less than a yard, pretty much ending their comeback attempt. 

We’re going to take a look at the screen play, why it didn’t work and why Cowboys rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch knew it was coming. 

Here’s what the play looked like at the snap. It’s Alshon Jeffery’s job at the top of the play to simply take away his corner. He’s running vertical. The other three — Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz — at the bottom are selling their routes, but are just decoys. Carson Wentz is going to look them off. 

The real key to this play is Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s letting the pressure through and then Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks getting out in front to provide the blocks for Corey Clement. 

 

Just after the snap, it looks like Vander Esch is already seeing what’s going on. His man is Clement, so he’s not going anywhere. One thing that actually plays into the Cowboys’ favor on this play is they were running a stunt up front. So the right defensive tackle, Maliek Collins, is crossing and coming inside. That’s actually going to give him a head start in pursuit, which is going to be key. 

 

Here we are just as Clement catches the ball. Ideally, Brooks gets out there and blocks Vander Esch to the outside, so Clement can hit the hole and get a big gain. The problem was that stunt from Collins (circled) has given him an easier route in pursuit. And LB Jaylon Smith seemed to diagnose the screen pretty early too. Because of that, Clement makes the decision that he’s not going to be quick enough to hit the hole and now has to try to bounce it outside. 

 

At this point, Brooks is blocking Vander Esch, but that’s where Clement is going, trying to bounce it outside. Brooks could have gotten a better block, but ideally, Clement would break this inside and then Vander Esch is coming back toward Brooks, which makes it an easier block. Now, this play is going outside and the rookie linebacker read it perfectly and makes a nice diving tackle to take Clement down for a loss. 

If this play works, the Eagles pick up the first down and probably a lot more and maybe they score to tie the game. The problem with screen passes is that a lot of things need to go well and if one thing gets screwed up, the whole play can crap out. 

That’s what happened here. 

 

After the game, Vander Esch said he kind of knew the screen was coming there based on his own film study. 

He didn’t need to look back very far to see this on tape. Remember that touchdown on a screen pass to Wendell Smallwood two weeks ago in London? Same play. Or at least a really similar one that was just inverted. 

This is how the play is supposed to work when the spacing is right: 

 

That obviously didn’t happen on Sunday night against the Cowboys. Maybe it was too predictable. Maybe it’s just a bad idea to go backwards at all when all you need to do is go forward two yards in two plays. Both of those are valid gripes. And now the Eagles are 4-5 with dwindling playoff hopes.