Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan a major key for Eagles in Week 1

Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan a major key for Eagles in Week 1

Lane Johnson could only watch from home as Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan almost single-handedly beat the Eagles in 2016 — not once, but twice.

“It still affects me today,” Johnson said Wednesday after practice. “It just motivates me to go out there and go play even harder this year.”

Johnson missed both dates with Washington last season because of a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The result was nothing less than disastrous for the Eagles, who were suddenly rendered powerless to stop one of the NFC East’s most formidable pass rushers.

With Halapoulivaati Vaitai making his first professional start in place of Johnson at right tackle, Kerrigan registered 2½ sacks and five quarterback hits in the first meeting alone. The second time around, Kerrigan went around Matt Tobin and knocked the ball free from Carson Wentz in the final minute, the ensuing turnover closing the book on a late Eagles’ rally.

Kudos to Kerrigan, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but this was no coincidence. The Eagles finished the season with a 5-1 record when Johnson was in the lineup, and went 2-8 without.

“All last season, you can put a lot of the losses on me not being with the team,” Johnson said. “It's a new year this year, so we're just ready to get started off the right way.”

Johnson just spent the last 13 months discussing how helpless he felt throughout this ordeal. After waiting nine weeks from the time word got out about the suspension until learning his fate, Johnson was struck with the maximum ban four games into the Eagles’ season. By the time he returned, the team was eliminated from playoff contention. To this day, Johnson has an ongoing lawsuit against the NFL and NFL Players Association.

Who can blame the guy for being excited about the opportunity to finally turn the page? The key for Johnson will be to not get too excited.

“I really don't like getting too hyped for a game,” Johnson said. “Usually, if you get too emotional, you don't play as well as what you want. Try to keep it calm, and just go out there and go play.”

The thing is, Johnson’s track record against Kerrigan is kind of spotty. The last time the two faced off in 2015, Kerrigan was not credited with making a single play in the Eagles’ backfield. Earlier that same season, Kerrigan recorded one sack and two tackles for loss. In the five games the two have gone head-to-head, Kerrigan has three sacks and four tackles for loss.

“Kerrigan has always been a good opponent for me,” Johnson said. “A guy that tries hard every play, great motor, so it's going to be a challenge.”

Some give and take is to be expected. After all, Kerrigan is up to 58½ sacks over his six-year career.

“He’s a great player,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He's a high-motor guy, relentless finish. That's what you have to identify with him.

“To have Lane back, a little confidence there. Should be a good matchup all day, and just have to give the guy respect. He's a good pass rusher.”

Wentz is certainly breathing a little easier knowing Johnson will be in there this time around. By the time injuries had taken their toll on the offensive line, the Eagles were down to their fourth right tackle in the waning moments of their most recent game against Washington.

“We’re excited for Lane to be back,” Wentz said. “We’re excited for, thankfully, right now where we’re at, the entire O-line is healthy. That’s a big perk. A big strongpoint of our offense is that O-line and those big boys up front, so having Lane back, having everybody be healthy to start the year is exciting.

“He’s definitely a rock-solid guy at right tackle, so it will be good to have him.”

Nobody feels worse about Johnson’s suspension than him — except maybe Wentz, who bore the brunt of that absence on the football field. Thankfully for Johnson, the time for apologizing is finally over, and he can make up for it by going out and keeping his quarterback upright.

Atonement begins Week 1 with keeping Kerrigan at bay, but Johnson realizes it’s going to take more than one game to truly make amends.

“This whole season is meaningful to me,” Johnson said. “I’ve let down this team too many times. I’m on a thin leash here, so I need to go out and go play well and just be a good teammate.”

Jalen Mills has a message for ‘fake Eagles fans’

Jalen Mills has a message for ‘fake Eagles fans’

Jalen Mills had a bad game Sunday against the Bucs, but instead of doing what most players would do and avoid social media, Mills made sure to see all the hate. 

And he had a message for everyone who sent it his way: 

On Tuesday afternoon, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Farzetta caught up with Mills and asked the third-year corner why he decided to respond to those folks saying mean things about him on the internet:

It is what it is. As far as I’m concerned, we’re in the same predicament we were in last year that we’re in now. It was the same type of energy. So that’s why I said (it). I’m acknowledging it. 

All those fake Eagles fans, keep that same energy. When we start rolling and get back to where we’re going to get to at the end of the year, we don’t want to hear from you.

When asked if he uses the negativity on social media as motivation, Mills said he doesn’t, that he’s already self-motivated. But that seems like it might not be exactly true. Because if it’s not motivating, why bother?

While some fans have been completely rational, understanding that Mills had a bad game, others are ready to panic and pull him from the starting lineup. This probably has something to do with having a healthy Sidney Jones available. Jones has looked good as the Eagles’ slot corner through two games. 

But the thought of pulling Mills from the starting lineup after two games is far too reactionary. Remember, the Eagles won a Super Bowl with this guy last year. He was their best corner while Ronald Darby was getting over that dislocated ankle. If he doesn’t make sure Julio Jones can’t catch that ball against the Falcons, the Eagles’ season ends in the divisional round. 

No, Mills didn’t play a good game against the Bucs, but he shouldn’t be benched. Not yet. And he probably doesn't deserve to get hateful things said to him by frustrated fans. 

If you still want to hate Mills, though, go ahead. He’ll be happy to see it as he’s scrolling through his timeline.

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Eagles working out Jordan Matthews

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Eagles working out Jordan Matthews

Jordan Matthews, who had the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons, worked out for the receiver-desperate Eagles Tuesday, six weeks after he was released by the Patriots, according to a league source.

As of mid-afternoon, the Eagles had not formally signed Matthews, but the source said Matthews left the workout hopeful a deal would get done.

Matthews caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns from 2014 through 2016 with the Eagles before being traded in the 2016 preseason to the Bills in the Ronald Darby deal.

Matthews managed only 25 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown in 10 games with the Bills before being released and joining the Patriots, who released him with an injury settlement just a few days into training camp after he suffered a hamstring injury during practice.

He’s been rehabbing ever since.

The Eagles have been desperate for receiver help following injuries to Mike Wallace and Mike Hollins and with Alshon Jeffery still trying to return after offseason shoulder surgery.

The Eagles released DeAndre Carter on Tuesday to make room for running back Josh Adams, which left them with only Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson and Kamar Aiken healthy and available (see story).

Matthews this past spring, in an appearance with Sirius XM NFL Radio, accused the Eagles’ training staff of a “two really bad diagnoses” of knee and ankle injuries.

The Eagles have since replaced their entire training staff.

Re-signing Matthews makes sense since he has a history with Carson Wentz, who will make his first start of the season Sunday at the Linc against the Colts.

Wentz completed 73 passes for 804 yards and three TDs to Matthews in 2016, and only Zach Ertz (135) and Nelson Agholor (81) have caught more of Wentz’s passes in his two NFL seasons.

Matthews also has a history with Nick Foles. They played together here in 2014, Matthews’ rookie year, and Matthews had 30 catches for 278 yards and two TDs from Foles before he got hurt halfway through.

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