Johnson’s return to the field wasn’t as simple as taking time to rest and heal. He’s remained committed to treatment and rehabilitation, and when he first rejoined his teammates for their meeting with the Giants, he wasn’t fully confident his body would hold up. Johnson said Friday he needed to experience some contact in the game’s initial action before he knew he could play effectively, and a week later, he proved he could do the job, preventing 49ers star rusher Nick Bosa from recording a sack in the NFC title game.
More than a week has passed since that game. Thanks to the additional recovery time, the longtime Eagles right tackle feels even better.
“I’ve stayed strong on the rehab routine,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I need surgery after the season. But just getting stronger with what I have, it’s really what I’ve been working with the past month.”
Johnson’s next test will arguably be even greater. He’ll take the field against a Kansas City pass rush that is filled with quality players and headlined by defensive tackle Chris Jones, who played a massive role in helping the Chiefs return to the Super Bowl, recording two sacks in their win over the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.
Johnson has a couple of games under his belt in which he’s played through his injury. Still, he’ll be sure to look out for key indicators that he performs properly — a vital requirement in the biggest game of his team’s magical season.
“If I can absorb the force, if I can absorb a bull rush, and it’s not going to injure me or be something I have to worry about the whole game, after that, my confidence increases,” Johnson explained. “Because you get looks in practice, but it’s hard to simulate a real game without putting on pads. Usually, after the first drive, feeling my way out, I start to settle in.”
He’ll need to settle in quickly against defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit, which is known for deploying aggressive tactics in an effort to harass opposing quarterbacks. Spagnuolo’s approach will undoubtedly feature Jones, who wreaks havoc along the interior and isn’t afraid to make a few cameo appearances out wide, where Johnson operates.
Luckily for Johnson, he knows what to expect. He’s already encountered a similar test in the postseason in the Eagles’ win over the Giants.
“He’s one of the guys, they move him around and if he has a matchup issue with somebody, then they’re gonna just leave him there,” Johnson said of Jones. “(The Giants) did the same thing with Dexter Lawrence a few weeks ago, put him out wide, and I’m like, ‘welp, here we go.’
… “I try not to think about it too much. Really, what I do, the pass-rusher is going to react to the presentation I give him. If you overset, he’s going to go inside you. If you underset, he’s going to go around you. You can only control so much.”
Lawrence enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, but he’s not on the same level as Jones, at least not yet. Johnson knows Jones will present a greater challenge. The proof is in the tape from the AFC title game, in which Jones recorded a key sack by powering past Bengals right tackle Hakeem Adeniji to take down Joe Burrow, forcing a Bengals punt.
“Some guys aren’t savvy when they go out there. Chris is,” Johnson said. “That’s what sets him apart. Those guys are used to rushing in very close proximity. When you move them out, they have more room, so it’s unfamiliar to them. But Chris makes it work.”
Injury and all, Johnson will aim to make it work for the Eagles on Sunday. If it does, he just might enjoy another blissful moment of triumph amid confetti showers.
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com