Von Miller

Lane Johnson earns trophy for shutting down NFL's 'best' pass rusher

USA Today Images

Lane Johnson earns trophy for shutting down NFL's 'best' pass rusher

Inside Lane Johnson's locker sat a pristine No. 58 Von Miller jersey. It wasn't the one Miller wore during the game; that one went to Fletcher Cox.

This was one still clean, neatly folded inside a clear plastic bag. Miller summoned a Broncos equipment manager to get it for Johnson after Johnson handed him his No. 65 jersey. It's a pretty common NFL postgame ritual.

"Just another one to hang on the wall," he said after tapping the plastic-wrapped jersey.

Johnson can consider this one a trophy.

Because for most of Sunday afternoon, Johnson shut down the best pass rusher in the entire league. No sacks, no QB hits, no QB hurries as the Eagles' crushed the Broncos, 51-23 (see breakdown).

"He's a very disruptive player and can take over a game so I just wanted to neutralize him the best I could," Johnson said. "I had a good game against him. As far as confidence, it boosts my confidence a little bit but everything we want is in front of us the next seven games. Take this week off to rest and get back at it."

Since entering the league in 2011, Miller has 81.5 sacks. That's the most in the league and over five more than the next closest guy on the list. Miller did pick up a strip sack Sunday afternoon, but it came against Isaac Seumalo after Johnson was taken out of the game with a huge lead. Miller admitted he would have preferred to get the sack when the Eagles didn't "have the ‘B’ team in."

When Johnson was in the game, Miller simply couldn't get anything going.

"Lane did a heckuva job against Von Miller, who to me, that guy is the best guy I have ever seen on film," tight end Brent Celek said. "You gotta give Lane a lot of credit, man. He did a heckuva job." 

Johnson said the key to neutralizing Miller is getting off the ball to match Miller's quickness. He also said it's important to not get fooled by Miller's wiggle, which aims to raise a tackle up and then go through him with a bull rush. 

This matchup against Miller was one of the reasons the Eagles elected to keep Johnson at right tackle even after Jason Peters went down for the season. Miller, Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack all line up on the left side of the defensive line more often than not. The Eagles preferred to have Johnson face those top pass-rushers instead of Halapoulivaati Vaitai. 

Johnson has been playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2017.

"Lane is one of those guys, man, that when he gets locked in in a zone, he's tough — he's a tough tackle," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. "Hats off to him the way he prepares, too, and the way he practices to get ready for guys like Von Miller."

Johnson is seeking some redemption this year after serving a 10-game PED suspension last season. It was his second offense and a third would probably end his career with a two-year ban. He also missed four games for his first PED violation in 2014. 

"With the things that have gone bad in my career, I just want to show people what I'm capable of as a tackle," Johnson said. "That's really it, man. I just want to reach my full potential. If I do that, man, I think I did pretty good."

Shutting down Miller is a pretty good start. 

Eagles-Broncos thoughts: Don't overlook this struggling Denver team

USA Today Images

Eagles-Broncos thoughts: Don't overlook this struggling Denver team

1 p.m. on CBS
Eagles favored by 7.5

An underrated foe stands between the 7-1 Eagles and their bye week, as the 3-4 Broncos bring the NFL’s No.1 ranked defense to Lincoln Financial Field Sunday.

The Broncos are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have made a change under center, naming Brock Osweiler starting quarterback this week. Yet this a team that’s only a season-and-a-half removed from a Super Bowl championship, with much of the core talent still in place.

They’re also desperate. The Broncos are quickly losing ground in AFC playoff races, and need this game to remain in the conversation.

The Eagles are riding a six-game winning streak and would love to carry that momentum into the bye, but it may not come as easy as some of their recent victories. Denver has the horses to make this competitive — potentially even pull off the upset.

Putting the ‘O’ back in Offense
If the Broncos are to have any shot at turning their season around, they need to fix their offense. Denver ranks second in the NFL with 17 turnovers in 2017 and has managed to average 12.2 points over the last five contests. Abysmal.

With Pro Bowl talents like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, as well as C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles at running back, there’s no reason for it. That’s why the Broncos finally benched Trevor Siemian and handed the offense over to Osweiler.

Whether that helps anything remains to be seen. Osweiler is a career 59.8.-percent passer averaging 6.2 yards per attempt with 26 touchdowns to 22 interceptions in six pro seasons. He was traded by the Texans in March and cut by the Browns in September before finding his way back to Denver.

It’s worth reiterating the Broncos are desperate. This move is proof, but they have to try something to jump start this offense. Denver hasn’t scored more than 19 points since Week 2, while the Eagles haven’t scored fewer than 20 this season.

Force Osweiler to stay in his lane, and the rest should take care of itself.

Keeping the ‘D’ in Defense     
Then again, the Eagles haven’t been up against many defenses as strong this. Denver enters Week 9 ranked first in total yards allowed, second against the run, and fourth against the pass. The Broncos are No. 1 on third downs as well — an area the Eagles' offense has really excelled this season.

This unit has few if any weakness, yet the Broncos are surrendering 21 points per game, which is only 13th in the NFL. Some of that is a result of the offense’s inability to mount scoring drives or take care of the football, but opponents are avoiding the big mistakes as well.

Denver’s six takeaways are tied for 28th and just two more than the last place team. Ball security is always paramount, and against this defense is no different. Given the state of the Broncos' offense, stay patient, and they’re likely to give possession back sooner rather than later.

Not exactly a secret formula for success in the NFL. Easier said than done, too.

The Eagles must have a game plan for outside linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Aqib Talib in particular, either of whom can alter the course of a game in an instant. Miller has 21 forced fumbles in seven seasons, including playoffs, while Talib is fourth in NFL history with 10 interception returns for touchdowns.

How much work for Jay Ajayi?
One way to keep Denver’s D at bay is by running the football, even in the likely event it’s not working. It keeps the clock ticking, shortening the game while reducing the chances for turnovers in the process.

Naturally, that begs the question how much Ajayi will play — if he suits up at all — after the Eagles swung a trade for the Pro Bowl running back Tuesday. Early indications were Ajayi would be active against the Broncos, although as of Friday, coach Doug Pederson claimed to had not made a final decision.

Assuming Ajayi is in uniform, Pederson sounds intend on working his new weapon into the offense slowly.

“It's very limited — 10 to 15 plays,” Pederson said of Ajayi’s knowledge of the playbook. “I just want him to feel comfortable there, but it's a taste of a little bit of every aspect of the offense.”

It’s difficult to believe the Eagles wouldn’t have Ajayi active despite the reality his role could be relatively small. Against this defense, in particular, it makes sense to have another big body in the backfield to wear down a stout Broncos front.

A handful of carries — maybe in the four-to-eight range — should be enough to let Ajayi get his feet wet, not to mention help the Eagles execute their offensive game plan.

Wentz’s go-to receiver
If there is one vulnerability in this Broncos' defense, it’s been their ability to defend against tight ends. Last week, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had seven receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown. Cowboys tight ends had 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in their meeting, while Giants rookie Evan Engram racked up five catches for 82 yards and a score.

That bodes well quarterback Carson Wentz, who doesn’t mind throwing to his tight end at all.

With 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns this season, Zach Ertz is among the NFL’s top three players — not just tight ends — in all three categories. He’s been the biggest weapon in the Eagles passing attack all season, and Sunday could've been his biggest game yet against this defense. Update: But Ertz is a surprise inactive with a hamstring injury. So much for that.

There won’t be a lot of room to run. The receivers will struggle to get open. Wentz won’t have a ton of time to stand in the pocket and survey the field. But Ertz was the offense’s one constant all season, and he would've been able to get open against this defense.

Now the Eagles are suddenly without Ertz, and what was a tough matchup to begin with now looks a little scarier.

Eagles 25, Broncos 16

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Broncos

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Broncos

The Eagles have a chance to go into their bye week with an 8-1 record and seven straight wins. 

The Broncos stand in their way. 

No, Denver (3-4) hasn't been the team folks in Colorado were probably hoping to see this season. After winning three of their first four, the Broncos are losers of their last three games, including a loss to the Chiefs on Monday night. 

And now they've decided to switch quarterbacks on a short week. 

While the Broncos' offense has looked inept at times this season, that defense is no joke and can keep them in any game. 

Here's a look at five matchups the Eagles need to win Sunday:

Lane Johnson and 'Big V' vs. Von Miller 
This matchup — along with ones against Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack — is one of the reasons the Eagles decided to keep Johnson at right tackle instead of flipping him to left. 

Miller is the best pass rusher the Eagles will face all season or ever. This season, Miller already has seven sacks in seven games. And since he entered the NFL in 2011, he leads the league in sacks with 80½. He's an absolute game-wrecker. 

Now, you're probably wondering why Miller wouldn't just move to the right side of the defensive line and go against Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He probably will, at least some on Sunday. But it's pretty clear Miller is more comfortable on the defensive left, so the Eagles are forcing him to switch sides. 

Menelik Watson vs. Brandon Graham 
On the flip side, there's a reason many top edge rushers line up on the right tackle. Watson is a perfect example. He's just really struggled this season and Graham has a chance to absolutely feast on Sunday. 

Watson, according to ProFootballFocus, has given up an NFL-high eight sacks to go along with 12 QB hurries and three quarterback hits. 

On the other side, the Broncos use rookie Garett Bolles, who has been a little better but still looks like a rookie even though he's 25. Bolles has given up three sacks and will have to deal with a resurgent Vinny Curry and an improving Derek Barnett. 

Eagles' run game vs. Broncos' run D
Nose tackle Domata Peko has made a huge difference for the Broncos, who are really stout against the run this season. They've given up just 72.9 yards per game, second best in the league after the Eagles. 

What's even more impressive is what the Broncos have done against some of the better runners the NFL has to offer. Melvin Gordon had 54 yards and 38 yards in his two meetings against the Broncos, Ezekiel Elliott had eight, LeSean McCoy had 21, Marshawn Lynch had 12, Kareem Hunt had 46. 

The Eagles added Jay Ajayi this week but it's unclear just how big of a role he'll have in his first game. LeGarrette Blount has been performing well so far this season, too, and the Eagles are the fifth-best rushing team in the NFL. But whoever runs the balls is going to have their work cut out for them. 

Broncos' run game vs. Eagles' run D
The flip side of that is the Eagles have the best run defense in the league, giving up just 70.4 yards per game on the ground this season. Meanwhile, the Broncos have been the NFL's 10th-best rush offense. 

The Broncos use a few different backs. C.J. Anderson is still the guy who gets the most work, but Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker get worked in, too. Charles and Booker might be bigger concerns as receivers out of the backfield. 

Brock Osweiler vs. Jim Schwartz 
Broncos head coach Vance Joseph is making a quarterback switch for his team this weekend. Trevor Siemian is out and Osweiler is in. 

Osweiler found some success with the Broncos a few years ago but then went to the Texans on a $72 million deal and was traded to the Browns for absolutely nothing. The Browns cut him six months later and he returned to the Broncos as a backup. 

Now, he's the starter again. 

It would make some sense if Schwartz tried to knock the rust off Osweiler himself by blitzing a lot on Sunday, but he probably won't need to. The Eagles ought to be able to get plenty of pass rush against the Broncos with their front four alone. It'll be a tough test for Osweiler but it's hard to imagine the Broncos' offense looking any worse than it did on Monday night against the Chiefs.