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Lane Johnson’s status, the defensive end rotation, and Jim Schwartz calling blitzes | Early Birds

Don't count Lane Johnson out this week. Plus, links to all of our coverage, and answers to your questions.

Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson watches Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers on Sunday, October 21, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson watches Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers on Sunday, October 21, 2018 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff PhotographerRead moreYONG KIM

Good morning. The Eagles return to the practice field at 1 p.m. today for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. Coach Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference, and quarterback Carson Wentz will also have his weekly news conference.

This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. I want to know what you think and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm.

— Zach Berman

Can Lane Johnson play on Sunday?

Pay attention to Lane Johnson this week. Johnson has a sprained MCL, which usually keeps players out for a few weeks. The Eagles have been mum on the Pro Bowl right tackle's status. But when offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was asked about preparing Halapoulivaati Vaitai to start, Stoutland didn't make it sound like it's a foregone conclusion that Johnson would be on the sideline.

"You're not counting Lane out, are you?" Stoutland said on Tuesday. "I think he's a tough guy. Knowing Lane Johnson, anything he can do to be on the field, he'll be there. I'm not a doctor or anything like that. But I know how he operates."

Johnson had already been playing through a high ankle sprain. No one should ever question Johnson's toughness, but some injuries need time to heal. The Eagles had a bye week, so there will be two weeks between the knee injury and the Cowboys game. There will be a better sense of Johnson's status as the week progresses. With that said, Stoutland said Vaitai is prepared to play both the left and right sides. It would help him going into a game knowing he's going to play and taking first-team reps. Stoutland said Vaitai is "always going to be prepared."

Of course, the Eagles would need to play musical chairs with their linemen if Johnson is out and Jason Peters misses any time, which has happened often this season. In that case, Isaac Seumalo would play tackle and Stefen Wisniewski would enter the game at guard.

More playing time for Josh Sweat

It will be interesting to watch how the defensive end snaps are distributed going forward. Michael Bennett played 86 percent of the defensive snaps, Brandon Graham played 80 percent of the defensive snaps, and Chris Long played 62 percent of the defensive snaps. Josh Sweat only played four defensive snaps (six percent), so he wasn't really in the rotation.

It sounds like that could change going forward.

"We'd like Sweat to get a little bit more," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "We knew we had the bye week coming up, so those guys sort of emptied the tank a little bit. Going forward, we'd like to get him in there a little bit more, but those guys are veteran players. They knew what the situation was. They knew we really needed a win, and they also knew that as veteran players they got a chance to get a week off and get their bodies right a little bit."

The Eagles like to use a four-man rotation, but they usually have four players they want to play. Sweat, a fourth-round pick, needs to prove he should be on the field.

More blitzes?

If you saw how often the Eagles blitzed against Jacksonville and expect it to be a weekly occurrence, think again. That was a tactical decision based upon the field quality at Wembley Stadium.

"The field was so difficult to get any traction on that it really made it hard to generate pass rush," Schwartz said. "It was hard to push on guys. It was hard to corner. So we made a decision to blitz probably about twice as much as we normally did in the game. That probably had a lot to do with it."

The Eagles' defense will blitz on occasions, but it's designed to try to get pressure with a four-man rush. Don't look for Schwartz to have any major philosophical change now.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. The Eagles need more takeawaysLes Bowen writes.

  2. DeAndre Carter is out, T.Y. McGill is in.

  3. The Eagles are early favorites against the CowboysEd Barkowitz writes.

  4. Barkowitz breaks down how other wide receiver trades have worked out.

From the mailbag

I disagree that the defense has been the Achilles Heel. Yes, they gave up two big leads. But they're also the reason the Eagles have four wins this season. They held Atlanta to 12 points, Indianapolis to 16 points, the Giants to 13 points, and the Jaguars to 18 points. They're No. 5 in the NFL in scoring defense, keeping opponents to 19.5 points per game. The offense has been the problem, in my opinion. Their scoring is down this season by more than six points while scoring is up elsewhere. The Eagles should be in the top third of the league in scoring – not the bottom half. The defense gets the blame because they gave up leads, and I'm not letting them off the hook. But in the two games it happened – Tennessee and Carolina – the offense failed to score more than 23 points.

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