In 1999, shortly after Andy Reid was named head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he targeted and hired Jim Johnson as the Eagles' new defensive coordinator. Andy Reid, being an offensive-minded coach and having a great measure of confidence in Jim Johnson's abilities, gave him complete control of the defense.
Johnson wasted no time in whipping the Eagles defense into shape. In 1999, Johnson's unit forced an NFL-best 46 turnovers, including a team-record five interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Over the years, this has proved to be a fairly lucrative partnership, as the Eagles have won five division titles under their tutelage.
Jim Johnson is quite literally a defensive mastermind, widely regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. Johnson has gained a reputation as being a master architect of blitzes, as he is able to create pressure by disguising blitzes to keep the opposing offenses constantly off-balance.
The Eagles defense, under Johnson, knows only one way to play, and that is to attack.
From 2000-07, Johnson's units tied for first in the NFL with 342 sacks, second in the league in third down efficiency (34.3 percent) and red zone touchdown percentage (43.0 percent), and fourth in fewest points allowed (17.6 per game).
In 2001, Johnson's unit became the fourth team in NFL history to go all 16 games without allowing more than 21 points. Their streak of allowing 21 or fewer in 34 straight games was second longest in NFL history (Minnesota, 1968-71).
Johnson simply knows how to pick offenses apart.
His football acumen places him among the absolute best. In my opinion, no one does it better out of the 4-3. It is due to Johnson's success that I believe the Eagles may be in trouble.
On May 18, 2009, Johnson announced a leave of absence as the Eagles Defensive Coordinator due to the advancement of his cancer. It is not known if or when Johnson will return to the Eagles.
Can the Philadelphia Eagles maintain their defensive success without Johnson? I have my doubts.
Aside from Asante Samuel and maybe Trent Cole, there is not an elite player on their defense. But then again, the Eagles' defensive success has never been entirely due to the individuals playing in it. Rather, it has been due to Johnson's scheme.
Blitzes create holes for linebackers to run through to the backfield to make plays. That is what Johnson was able to mastermind like no other. Can the Eagles still be effective without Jim on the sidelines?
The Eagles defense was rendered ineffective in the 2008 NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals. In this game, Jim Johnson was unable to command his defense from the sidelines as his battle with cancer caused him to withdraw from the field and call plays from the booth.
It didn't work out so well, and Reid was coaching the Pro Bowl once again.
The 67-year-old Johnson was diagnosed with melanoma in 2001. The team announced after the 2008 season that the cancer had returned and he had a tumor on his spine. Johnson underwent treatment and coached from a motorized cart during the team's first post-draft mini camp, but his condition has since worsened.
Cancer is a terrible thing and I wish Johnson all the best in his recovery, but I fear that the Eagles will falter in his absence.
Though many of Johnson's disciples have flourished in the NFL (Steve Spagnuolo, Ron Rivera and John Harbaugh), they have only done so with talented players whose abilities have allowed their defenses to succeed over the genius of their defensive schemes.
(Spagnuolo had Strahan in New York, Rivera had Urlacher in Chicago, and Harbaugh inherited Rex Ryan who had Ray Lewis in Baltimore.)
Secondary coach Sean McDermott will handle the Eagles defense in Johnson's absence. McDermott is the latest promising young coach to develop under Johnson's tutelage, but he is no Jim Johnson.
McDermott has only coached under Johnson—any successes he has had can be attributed to Johnson's preparation and blitzing schemes.
Can he lead the Eagles defense to success without Johnson? Who knows? But at the very least there is reason to doubt.
With the additions of Maclin and McCoy coupled with the maturation of Jackson and Celek, the Eagles 2009 offense looks very promising.
Donovan finally has no excuses as he is surrounded with great offensive weapons. But without Johnson to keep the defense elite, the hope that these new additions bring may be dashed if the defense regresses.
The once great defense might just be one of the worst in the league without Jim there to make the adjustments. Johnson's blitzing schemes were able to transform role players into gods. But when oz is no longer behind the curtain, it is just a bunch of flashing lights and a smoke machine.
McDermott has his work cut out for him. There is no Strahan or Urlacher to lead the Eagles D. In fact, they are without their emotional leader in B-Dawk this year as well.
Johnson's shoes are impossible to fill and the Eagles will need more than a band-aid when things start going south. This is a make it or break it year for Reid's Eagles and things just got harder without Johnson.
Jim, I hope you get well soon. The Eagles won't be the same without you.
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