Eagles' Lane Johnson looking forward to challenge of facing Von Miller
"I'd rather go up against the best than somebody who's 0-7 or whatever," the right tackle says.
Lane Johnson believes he is one of the two or three best offensive tackles in the NFL. Right side, left side, east side, west side, any side.
He's going to have an excellent opportunity to make his case in the Eagles' next two games, beginning Sunday, when he faces off against perhaps the league's premier edge-rusher: the Broncos' three-time first-team all-pro, Von Miller.
Then, after the bye week, he'll do battle with the NFL's current sack leader, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
If he can manage to neutralize both of them, the fifth-year right tackle finally might persuade enough of his peers that he deserves an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando in January for the Pro Bowl.
Miller and Johnson have never faced each other. The Broncos and Eagles played each other when Johnson was a rookie in 2013, but Miller was serving a six-game suspension at the time for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
But their cups seem to runneth over with respect for each other. At least they did this week.
"He's the quickest twitch defender I've ever seen,'' Johnson said. "Everybody else will tell you the same thing. He's just faster than everybody.''
Said Miller: "Lane Johnson probably is the best right tackle in the league. If not the best, he's tied for the best. He's definitely up there.
"I'm sure you guys can make arguments about this guy and that guy. But Lane Johnson is the premier right tackle in the National Football League.''
The big question Sunday will be how often Miller and Johnson actually go up against each other. Miller has lined up the vast majority of the time this season on the left side of the defense, which would put him across from Johnson.
But with nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters out for the year and the relatively inexperienced Halapoulivaati Vaitai making just his ninth career start and second at left tackle, might the Broncos' new head coach, Vance Joseph, and his defensive coordinator, Joe Woods, have Miller hang out on that side?
Johnson doesn't think so.
"He'll play all over,'' he said. "But he'll mostly be over me.''
Which is just what Johnson wants.
"I'd rather go up against the best,'' he said. "See where you're at, rather than play somebody that's 0-7 or whatever. It's going to be a good matchup. He's the best in the league for a reason. It'll be a good opportunity.''
Joseph and Woods have moved Miller around a lot less than Wade Phillips did the previous two seasons when he ran the Broncos defense .
Last year, Miller lined up on the left side of the defense on just 62.9 percent of his pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. In the Broncos' first seven games this season, however, he has stayed on the left side 79.1 percent of the time in pass-rush situations.
"Von's a guy who everyone has a plan to chip or slide every week,'' Joseph said, referring to blocking schemes. "If you watch our tape, every week we have a plan to move Von around some so he can get a fair protection or a fair one-on-one.
"That won't change this week. We'll have a plan to free him up. Whether he's in the core of the defensive line or right or left end. He's played both. We've also lined him up in the 'A' gaps in certain packages. So we're going to make the offensive line find Von Miller. That's part of what we do.''
Said Miller: "I'm a pass-rusher. It doesn't matter who I'm lining up against. I'm going to do my best to get [the quarterback] down.''
Regardless of what side Miller lines up on, the tackle frequently will have help. Without Peters, the Eagles used multiple-tight-end sets a season-high 51.5 percent of the time last week in their 33-10 win over the winless 49ers. Look for a lot of 12 (1RB, 2 TEs, 2WRs) and 13 (1RB, 3TEs, 1WR) personnel groupings again this week.
"They talk a lot about tackles doing good against him,'' Johnson said. "But those guys are getting chip help. They're getting the ball out [quicker].
"No matter who you are, you can't be on him alone the whole game with no chip help, no [protection) help. Nobody can do it, I don't think.''
He'll get no argument from Joseph. He knows he is coaching a once-in-a-decade player.
"This is my first year around Von every day,'' the Broncos coach said. "He is a special athlete. He's built like an outside linebacker, but he's got defensive back-type quickness and explosion and quick twitch.
"He can turn a corner and put every cleat in the ground. That's just genetics. But it's definitely a special talent. He also puts the work in.
"He's a big-time studier of the offensive tackles that he's going up against. He's a big-time studier of different [rush] games and stunts that he wants to run each week. So, along with the talent, Von's become a student of the game.''
The fact that the game Sunday is at Lincoln Financial Field won't give Johnson and/or Vaitai any kind of advantage. As Johnson correctly pointed out, quick-twitch rushers such as Miller actually prefer to play on the road because the crowd is quieter when the home-team offense is on the field, which allows rushers to focus on the snap count and get a better jump.
Miller has a team-high four offside penalties this season, but that's just the cost of doing business for a quick-twitch edge-rusher.
Carson Wentz will try to keep Miller off-balance by mixing up his cadence and using multiple snap counts.
"As an offense, if you have multiple snap counts, it can definitely help,'' Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "You can go fast at times. You can slow it down at times. You can mix the cadence up.
"It's just got to be a rhythm thing, from the standpoint of the offense, where we're in sync and we're in rhythm with the snap count that Carson has on that particular play. That's a good way of trying to eliminate, or at least equalize, some of those pass rushes.''