I'm sad to say that Tuesday night Jim Johnson lost his fight against melanoma—a malignant tumor where melanocytes or pigment cells grow uncontrollably.
With his passing, the world is losing one of the great defensive minds in all of football. When you think of coaches associated with dominating defenses—such as Monte Kiffin, Tony Dungy, Dick Lebeau, Bill Parcells, or Bill Belichick—Jim Johnson has to be included with them.
However, Jim Johnson's defense was much different from any of the others on that list.
His defensive philosophy stressed above all else that putting pressure on the quarterback is necessary for a defensive team to be dominant against an offense..
"It was around 1994 or '95, when I was with the Colts, and we were playing against San Francisco with Steve Young running the West Coast offense, releasing receivers all the time, guys getting by you. The idea was don't let these people dictate to you. You have to put more pressure (on the quarterback), and every year we tried to figure out how to do that."
This statement provides all you need to know about Jim Johnson's defense: pressure.
His pressure defense is very different from those of other defensive minds, however.
With Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy's famed Tampa-two defense, pressure is generated from the defensive linemen with quickness and pass-rushing ability being the necessary qualities needed to be successful.
Dictating the play like this allows the linebackers and the defensive secondary to "spy" the quarterback and make a reaction toward a quarterback throwing a ball under duress. Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp were prime examples of guys who constantly collapsed the pocket and allowed guys like Derrick Brooks (one of the best weakside linebackers to ever play in the NFL) and John Lynch to make a play on the football.
With Parcells' and Belichick's defenses, the emphasis of pressure comes from the outside linebackers. DeMarcus Ware or Shawne Merriman would be ideal fits for their defenses, due to their quick-twitch ability and pass-rushing ability.
The defensive linemen were only required to try to push back the offensive line, and had an emphasis to stopping the run. The secondary can then complement the blitzing linebackers through the use of zone or man coverage. More often than not, the cornerbacks will be left out to dry with no help from the safeties on one on one coverage.
Jim Johnson's defense is different from these coaches. His pressure came from everywhere. His calling card and notoriety throughout the football world was his exotic blitzes. It didn't matter who was pressuring the ball. Someone from that defense was coming to pressure the quarterback every play.
At times, Jim Johnson was willing to go all-out and send everyone at the opposing quarterback. What I remember most about Jim Johnson's defense was his goal line defense.
His goal line defense was one of the very best that I have ever seen. I remember all those times when the Bucs would get close to scoring a touchdown, but come away with either a field goal or nothing, because that defense would either stuff the run for a loss, or flush out the quarterback and force him to make a bad pass.
Rest in peace, Jim Johnson.