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October 10, 2017

A look at the Eagles' offensive line with Lane Johnson likely out Thursday vs. Panthers

Eagles NFL

Since the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles are 9-2 when Lane Johnson plays, and 2-11 when he does not. That's a gentle reminder that Lane Johnson is good at football and very important to the Philadelphia Eagles' chances for success in 2017.

Right tackles often go unnoticed, and when they do, that's a good thing. For Johnson to go unnoticed the first four game of the season was extraordinarily impressive, considering he had to face Ryan Kerrigan (Redskins), Justin Houston (Chiefs), Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants), and Joey Bosa (Chargers). That quartet of pass rushers were very quiet against the Eagles, at least when squaring off against Johnson.

In Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson suffered a concussion. According to Doug Pederson, Johnson is unlikely to play this Thursday in Carolina against the Panthers, because it's difficult for players to clear the NFL's concussion protocol in just four days.

"It's tough based on the protocol and what the players have to go through," Pederson explained yesterday afternoon. "So, again, I'll find out more this afternoon, but it's hard on a short week."

In Johnson's place, Halapoulivaati Vaitai will get the start. When Vaitai was forced into action in the Eagles' fifth game a year ago against the Washington Redskins, he had a dreadful performance, getting dominated all day by Kerrigan, who pressured Carson Wentz all day. Vaitai is a drastically improved player from where he was in that game. In relief of Johnson last week, Vaitai was able to hold down the fort.

"Big V came in and started the third quarter," Pederson said. "We went down and got the points right away, and played good. Played solid. He's one that the more he plays, the better he gets. Even on a short week, for him not getting a ton of reps at tackle to come in off the bench like he does is just a tribute to the way he prepares himself and the way he battles and gets better every time he gets out there."

Barring any roster moves, the Eagles will have seven offensive linemen active on Sunday, with the struggling Isaac Seumalo left as the team's primary backup at both tackle spots. Seumalo began the season as the starting LG, but was benched after the team's Week 2 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Seumalo started one game last year at RT against the Baltimore Ravens, and played reasonably well, at least for a rookie center/guard having to play on the edge against a guy like Terrell Suggs.

Barring any roster moves, and assuming Johnson will not play, the Eagles' depth chart heading into Thursday night will look something like this:

Jason Peters *Stefen Wisniewski Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Halapoulivaati Vaitai 
 Halapoulivaati VaitaiChance Warmack Stefen Wisniewski Chance Warmack Isaac Seumalo 

We put an asterisk next to Wisniewski's name because the Eagles will continue their baffling LG platoon, in which Wisniewski and Warmack share snaps. Here is how the Eagles have split snaps so far between Wisniewski and Warmack since Week 3, after Seumalo was benched:

LG Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 
Stefen Wisniewski  44 (58%) 49 (62%) 42 (63%) 
 Chance Warmack 32 (42%) 30 (38%)  25 (37%) 

As you can see, Wisniewski's snap count percentage has gone up each week. On Monday, Pederson acknowledged that Wisniewski is playing better than Warmack, and said that Wisniewski may earn even more snaps Week 6 against the Panthers.

"Going forward with the guard rotation, we will continue that," Pederson said. "However, we do anticipate probably Wis getting a few more reps in there just based on his play in the last couple of weeks."

Previously, Pederson had explained that Wisniewski's and Warmack's respective skill sets complement each other.

"Chance's strengths are Wis' weaknesses and Wis' strengths are Chance's weaknesses, so they really feed off of each other and they don't miss a beat," Pederson said last week.

Except, in my opinion anyway, Wisniewski has been better than Warmack both in the passing game and in the running game. It's hard to see where Warmack is better than Wisniewski in any way at the moment, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

The Panthers are third in the NFL in sacks, with 17.

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