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Match-up Spotlight: Khalil Mack vs. Lane Johnson

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football is often called a game of matchups where any single player possesses the ability to change the course of a game. One of the most intriguing match-ups last year was a clash between Khalil Mack and Lane Johnson in Week 16.

Lane Johnson has long been considered one of the best tackles in football but it wasn’t until 2017 that he was formally recognized with an All-Pro selection. In fact, he was the first right tackle in nearly seven years to earn an All-Pro selection.

Johnson more than earned his selection helping lead Philadelphia’s second-ranked rush game, but more importantly, turning in excellent performances against Demarcus Lawrence and Von Miller. After that Johnson had no time to rest on his laurels as he geared up to face the NFL’s apex predator, Khalil Mack.

In an interview before the game, Johnson stressed that the key to stifling Mack was beating him off the snap count.

“A lot of times, Khalil just beats guys off the snap,” said Johnson. “He’s so explosive. He gets guys turned around . . . and when that happens, he just does whatever he wants with them”.

This seemingly innocuous comment sparked a massive debate after Mack was limited to four tackles and zero sacks against the Eagles. Many fans argued that Mack had actually won the matchup since he forced Johnson into two separate holding penalties. In order to settle this debate once in for all, I graded their contest on a snap-by-snap basis in order to determine who had “won” their head-to-head match-up.

Chart Analysis

Type of Success Khalil Mack Lane Johnson
Type of Success Khalil Mack Lane Johnson
Pass 7 (32%) 15 (68%)
Run 4 (67%) 2 (33%)
Overall 11 (39%) 17 (61%)

Film Summary

In my honest opinion, Mack’s greatest strength is his dominance in the run game. His ability to consistently use his freakish combination of strength and quickness to leverage himself into position and cause havoc at the line of scrimmage is second to none.

This dominance in the run game was reflected in my grading, however, Mack’s 67% run defense success percentage doesn’t adequately express his effectiveness in run defense as it is limited to head-to-head contests against Johnson. In non-head-to-head snaps, Mack was able to consistently blow up the Eagles run plays despite the opposing offenses unwillingness to run in his direction.

On the other hand, Lane Johnson did a fantastic job in disrupting Mack’s pass rush as evidenced by his 68% win percentage. If anything, that win percentage doesn’t truly do him justice. In grading Johnson’s success in pass blocking, I required him to minimize disruption and limit pressures. I’ve defined pressures as plays where the defender puts the opposing lineman in a compromising position which potentially forces the quarterback to throw before he is ready in order to avoid the sack.

Obviously, pass rush success involving pressures is rated more highly than simply causing disruption. Lane Johnson was able to limit Mack to three pressures in 22 head to head snaps which is a fantastic loss percentage for Johnson. The Eagles offensive coordinator did a brilliant job in mixing up the looks for Mack and dicing up the Raiders secondary with quick throws. While this undoubtedly helped Johnson, especially late in the game, it doesn’t mean that Johnson didn’t perform extremely well regardless.

Conclusion

In the passing game, Johnson won the matchup as he was able to limit Mack to three pressures and four disruptions. On the other hand, in the running game, Mack won the matchup with four run success snaps.

Overall, I would give the edge in this matchup contest to Johnson for two reasons. Firstly, I tend to value pass rush success more than run defense success. This is a passing league and the ability to affect the quarterback (or protect him) is essential for success. While the emphasis on the short passing game helped to slow down Mack, Johnson nevertheless did an admirable job against him.

Secondly, because of the Eagles offensive play calling, they rarely ran towards Mack reducing his ability to affect the game with his stellar run defense. While Mack was still able to have an impact, his disruptiveness was greatly reduced as reflected by the low number of graded run success snaps. In this premiere matchup, Johnson and the Eagles won convincingly because they were able to consistently win their matchups and limit Mack’s impact through effective play calling.

Poll

Who won this match-up?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Khalil Mack
    (322 votes)
  • 40%
    Lane Johnson
    (220 votes)
542 votes total Vote Now