Remembering Jim Johnson: The Architect

We all know Sean McDermott is a disciple of the late great Defensive Coordinator for the Eagles, Jim Johnson (may he rest in peace).  Johnson's success in Philly was about out-thinking his opponents.  McDermott learned from the very best, serving multiple roles in his years with his mentor: The Architect.

Make no mistake, Jim Johnson ran the Eagles defense like a General leading his troops from 1999 to 2009, before ultimately and sadly succumbing to cancer.  His legacy continues, and is alive and well here in Carolina.

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. —(Wikipedia) Jim Johnson, describing the origin of his defensive philosophy.

(From Wiki): Sean McDermott originally joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998 as a scouting administrative coordinator, a position he held until being promoted to assistant to the head coach in 1999. He then became defensive quality control coach and later assistant defensive backs coach (under Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson). In 2003 he replaced Steve Spagnuolo as defensive backs coach, as Spagnuolo was assigned linebackers coach. In 2004, McDermott saw both of his starting safeties (Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis) earn Pro Bowl berths for the first time in team history. Under McDermott's watch, Dawkins went on to earn two more Pro Bowl berths following the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

In 2007, McDermott was assigned linebackers coach, after Spagnuolo had left to take the defensive coordinator job for the New York Giants. On January 28, 2008, Eagles head coach Andy Reid named McDermott secondary coach again.  On May 18, 2009, McDermott was named the interim defensive coordinator as a result of Jim Johnson's medical leave of absence. On July 24, 2009, due to the continuing decline of Johnson, the Eagles announced McDermott would take over as full time defensive coordinator.  McDermott implemented a variety of blitzes in his defense, following in the footsteps of Johnson.

Obviously, McDermott is inexorably tied to his friend and mentor.  What I did not know is that the linebacker coach replaced by Spagnuolo in 2004 was Ron Rivera

In 1999, Rivera was named linebackers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. During his tenure the Eagles advanced to the NFC Championship for three consecutive seasons. He is credited with developing linebacker Jeremiah Trotter into a two-time Pro Bowl performer (more about that later).

Remembering Jim Johnson, The Architect:

Washington Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel said late in the week (Jan. 18, 2009): "He is outstanding. He is a players' coach. He knows how to get them to play. He knows how to put them in the right spots. You talk about him, Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh and [Rex] Ryan in Baltimore, you go against those guys and you never know where they're coming from. It feels like you're going against 15 guys out there on defense.

Johnson is known as being a master architect of blitzes, disguising them skillfully and keeping offenses constantly off-balance because the Eagles bring defenders from all different angles.

"We come up with little things here and there sometimes, you know," Johnson said. "Maybe it's stuff we haven't used in three or four years, just like a library. We're always trying to have the offense think about something, plus have our players go to meetings not just to go to meetings. They've got to pick up new stuff. It keeps them sharp, too."

Check this out  (article by Lance Zierlen):

Jim Johnson was one of the most respected defensive coordinators in football over the last decade. If you liked your defense aggressive, he was your guy. If you liked speed and hitting, he was your guy. If you liked a coach who was masterful at in-game coaching maneuvers, he was your guy.

Johnson was one of the most effective DCs I’ve seen at getting the most out of his blitz packages. He was very effective at bringing the heat from all over the field and he never let offensive linemen, offensive line coaches, quarterbacks or running backs get comfortable when it came to pass protection. In fact, what made Johnson so great as a blitz-happy DC was his understanding of pass protection schemes.

With the athletes the Panthers have, I am very excited to see what Rivera and McDermott devise.  Maybe something like this (from the same article).

Last season, I watched Jim Johnson’s defense sack Ben Roethlisberger 9 times in a 15-6 Eagles win. Johnson understood that when there was a single high safety in coverage, the Steelers were not going to account for a blitz from the slot since there was nobody who could cover the slot WR if the Eagles were to blitz. Instead Johnson came up with a blitz package that gave the Steelers fits and forced them to change some of their protections in the future to prevent other teams from doing the same thing to them.


* Notice that Johnson’s defense would crowd the LBs into the "A gaps". He knew that Pittsburgh would have their center block the LB to the right and the running back was responsible for the LB on the left.

* You’ll notice that pre-snap, there is no help for the CB who is coming off the slot on a blitz.

* Johnson would blitz the LB on the left which forced the RB to step up and pick him up, but he would have the other LB sprint to help cover the slot WR. Johnson created a scenario where the slot CB would fly in untouched.

While this blitz package certainly put the Eagles defense at risk, Johnson understood how to balance risk/reward. The Steelers had to change how they approached protections against A-gap blitzes for fear that more teams would copy Johnson. Sure enough, the Steelers saw the exact same blitz package from another team later in the season, but the Steelers had learned their lesson after being schooled by Johnson.

Now that's what I call "Defensive Game Planning."  Meeks did his best, no question about it, but he just doesn't have the creativity (or wasn't allowed) to try such schemes last year.

One last tidbit I found remarkably interesting:

Jim Johnson Creates a Pro Bowler

If were looking for a coach who understood how to make the most of what he had, look no further than  Jeremiah Trotter. Trotter was the old breed of MLB who was aggressive and tough but more of a straight line player. He wasn’t great on the move and in coverage.

Trotter excelled in Philly and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and 2001 but then signed a fat free agent deal to go to the Redskins. The Redskins found out shortly thereafter, that Jim Johnson had a big hand in making Trotter a Pro Bowler and the Skins couldn’t get the same thing out of him. After two seasons with the Redskins, Trotter ended up back with the Eagles.

The Eagles weren’t very good against the run up the middle so what Jim Johnson did was utilize Trotter’s straight line aggressiveness to his favor with a series of run blitzes. The Eagles would literally run blitz with Trotter for much of the game and that helped to keep him from having to play in space too often and it helped to slow down the opposition’s running game. Oh yeah, and he made a Pro-Bowler out of Trotter once again in 2005 and 2006.

My, oh my.  Just imagine what Rivera and McDermott can do with someone who's already a Probe-Owler.


By comparison, this is what McDermott had at Linebacker last year with the Eagles:

Unlike some of the top defenses in the league, the Eagles don’t have a linebacker that teams really fear. They’ve proven that they can be effective, but they still have a lot of room for improvement. Bradley led the unit with 60 tackles, while Sims accounted for 55 and Fokou recorded 51. (Bleacher Report) 

Jim Johnson' produced a legacy of greatness, his defenses feared by Offensive Coordinators throughout the league.  The Panthers' Coaches and Players will definitely draw inspiration and aggressiveness from Johnson's example.  You can say adios and good riddance to "bend-don't-break" and a hardy welcome to "controlled chaos and confusion."  The Panther's defensive success will be the best tribute to The Architect.

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