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Fan-Demonium: The Best Of Jim Johnson

Posted Oct 3, 2009


Jim Johnson passed away this summer when the Eagles were in training camp and all kinds of different news items were happening each day. I wrote about Johnson at the time, but there was so much going on with the team that I didn't get a chance to write everything I wanted. Now that the bye week is here I want to take a final look back and talk about the most memorable games and matchups from Johnson's time as our defensive coordinator.

Eagles 15, Steelers 6 – September 21, 2008

Big Ben Roethlisberger came to town and got pounded on by Trent Cole and the defense all game long. The Eagles racked up nine sacks. They had 10 tackles-for-loss. They came up with two takeaways and a safety. Roethlisberger was knocked out of the game with a hand injury and the Steelers gained only 180 net yards.

The first part of the equation was stopping the run. Not many people shut down the Steelers, but the Eagles did and made it look easy. Willie Parker's longest run was only 8 yards. He never once seemed close to breaking off a long run. He was tackled or hit around the line of scrimmage on most of his carries. Pittsburgh finished the game with only 19 carries for 33 yards.

The Eagles pass rush got constant pressure and the cover guys stuck right with receivers. Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 37 times. He was sacked on eight of them and forced to run on another four. That doesn't even take into account the plays where he had to hurry throws or simply throw the ball away. Factor those plays in and he was affected by the pass rush and blitz on almost every other pass. That's great pressure.

Johnson and the defense never let Pittsburgh get into any kind of offensive rhythm. The defense blitzed off the edges and up the middle. Some plays only four men rushed. The safety came on a play with only the four defensive linemen going after the quarterback. There were other plays when only three men rushed and eight dropped into coverage.

Eagles 41, Cowboys 14 – September 3, 2000

Hello, winning ways. The Eagles opened the game with an onside kick. They recovered it, scored on the drive and things have been pretty good ever since. That onside kick and Duce Staley's 201-yard rushing output are what most people remember about the game.

Johnson's defense was brilliant that day. They sacked Troy Aikman five times and beat the heck out of him. Corey Simon got a sack on his first NFL snap. Hugh Douglas chipped in a couple of sacks of his own. The blitz was very effective and Aikman took some big hits. That pounding was the beginning of the end for Aikman. He was knocked out of the game after going 0 for 5 passing. Jeremiah Trotter picked off a pass and ran it back 27 yards for a touchdown. Aikman played in 11 games that year and then retired.

On the day, Dallas totaled 167 yards. They kicked a pair of field goals and then got a late touchdown pass from some guy named Randall Cunningham. Pretty weird, huh?

Eagles 20, Chargers 17 – October 23, 2005

Quintin Mikell, just a special teamer at the time, blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter and Matt Ware scooped it up and ran it back for the game-winning score. That was a great moment and the immediate memory from that game.

The bigger story was the job done by Johnson's defensive unit. The overall numbers were nothing special. The Chargers scored 17 points and gained 291 yards. The defense stood out because of the job they did on star running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He was held to 7 yards on 17 carries. Think about that. He didn't even average half a yard per carry. Even crazier, he had one run that went for seven yards. That means on the other 16 carries he totaled zero yards. Tomlinson was tackled for a loss on his first four runs. The Eagles also kept him out of the end zone, which was a huge deal at the time. Tomlinson had run for a touchdown in 18 straight games, an NFL record.

Defensive tackles Hollis Thomas and Darwin Walker were stout in the middle that day. Trotter led the defense with nine tackles and played a terrific game. Safety Michael Lewis was also big in shutting down Tomlinson and chipped in with six tackles. Players executed their assignments and the tackling was outstanding that day. That was great run defense by the entire defensive unit. Everyone had a hand in stopping Tomlinson.

Eagles 44, Cowboys 6 – December 28, 2008


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He's followed the team for almost 20 years. Tommy has been trained by an NFL scout in the art of scouting and player evaluation and runs

The Eagles got lucky on the final day of the 2008 regular season. Oakland had upset Tampa Bay and Chicago lost to Houston. The Eagles were 8-6-1 and the Cowboys were 9-6. Not only was this going to be a typical Dallas-Philadelphia grudge match, but there was a playoff berth on the line. This was the kind of game where one team needed their defense to step up and play big time.

Johnson's defense answered that challenge with authority. They sacked Tony Romo four times, came up with four takeaways and held Dallas to only six points. The Eagles did allow 298 yards, but the big plays by the defense more than made up for that. Chris Clemons and Joselio Hanson each ran a fumble back for a touchdown. Both fumbles were caused by Brian Dawkins, who had a big game. He had five tackles and a sack as well. The numbers don't tell the whole story. Dawkins played like a wild man. He hit every Dallas player he could, letting them know what December football was all about. He really set the tone for the day with his energy and aggression.

At halftime, Dallas had 80 yards, three points, three punts and two turnovers. The second half turned crazy in a hurry. Dallas turned the ball over on three straight possessions and we quickly built a 44-3 lead.

Packers 6, Eagles 3 – September 17, 2000

This game looked like a meeting of the current star quarterback, Brett Favre, and the future star quarterback in McNabb. Apparently they forgot to tell the respective defenses about that. Both teams dominated on that side of the ball. Neither quarterback looked like a star on that day.

Hugh Douglas had a big game, notching 2.5 sacks. The team got to Favre five times in the game. The Eagles held Green Bay to 236 yards. The defense picked off Favre three times and also recovered a fumble. Holding the Packers to only six points was a huge deal back then. That was their lowest point total from the middle of the 1996 season until the middle of the 2005 season.

Amazing sidenote - Johnson had great success against Favre. Johnson helped the Eagles to win five of the seven meetings and Favre never led Green Bay to more than 17 points, Johnson's magic number, in any game.

Eagles 23, Cowboys 7 – December 25, 2006

Tony Romo got to face a Jim Johnson defense for the first time. Dallas had played really well since Romo took over at midseason and things seemed magical. They could wrap up the NFC East title with a win. The game was played on Christmas day and I'm sure Dallas fans expected a late afternoon gift in the form of a win.

Things did not go well, which is to say that they went great for Eagles fans. Johnson and the defense made Romo's day miserable. Romo was sacked three times and threw a pair of interceptions. He only passed for 142 yards on the day and Dallas only had 201 yards of total offense. The defense also came up with a goal line stand while the game was still close. Mikell had a hand in all four tackles.

Romo was only 14-of-29 on the day. He would have been sacked more than three times, but he too busy was throwing the ball away. The pressure was due to effective blitzing and a good day from the front four. Dallas' deadly receiver duo of Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens combined for a whopping three catches. Marion Barber ran six times and only finished with three yards. Best. Christmas. Ever.

Eagles 27, Falcons 10 – January 23, 2005

Michael Vick and the upstart Falcons had the league's best rushing attack. They averaged 167 yards a game on the ground. Vick was a dynamic runner. They had a big back in T.J. Duckett and workhorse runner in Warrick Dunn. This was the perfect offense for a cold January day in Philadelphia.

Johnson had some interesting wrinkles in store for Atlanta. He flip-flopped defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess. That was a simple, but very effective idea. Vick, a lefty, liked to roll to the right side of the defense. Kearse was a gifted athlete and having Vick come to his side would give us a favorable matchup. Johnson used a "mush rush" technique where the ends come upfield under control and deliberately focus on keeping the quarterback in the pocket. Vick was deadly on the edges, but much less effective in the pocket.

Johnson backed off blitzing. He played a lot of eight-man fronts, but always had our guys doing so just prior to the snap. Vick was never able to get an early look at the defense. Michael Lewis or Brian Dawkins walked up at the last minute. And Johnson had both safeties play back some of the time so that Vick couldn't assume we'd be in an eight-man front.

Johnson also came up with a real interesting twist. The Falcons used a lot of two-tight end, two-running back sets. Sometimes they would keep the tight ends close, but would also split Alge Crumpler out on some plays. Johnson had Lewis stay with Crumpler most of the time. Johnson had Dawkins walk down into the box. Johnson then had Sheldon Brown line up at free safety. This allowed us to use our base personnel, but to still keep pretty favorable matchups. Against a more polished quarterback, Crumpler may have eaten Lewis alive. We held him to four catches, very acceptable.

The Eagles limited Atlanta to 202 yards and only 99 on the ground. Vick was sacked four times, twice by Burgess. Vick was picked off once and the Falcons were shut out after halftime. Trotter was a force in the middle and led the team with eight tackles.

Eagles 27, Seahawks 3 – September 23, 2001

Matt Hasselbeck was new to Seattle. He made his second career start in this game and it showed. Johnson and the Eagles defense were absolutely stifling. Defensive end Brandon Whiting led the way with two sacks and the defense got to Hasselbeck seven times in the game. When he did have time to throw, not much happened. Hasselbeck finished 9-of-24 for 62 yards. When you take away the sack yardage, the Seahawks finished with only 21 net passing yards. Ouch.

Seattle gained 147 yards and scored 3 points in the game. There wasn't anything special schematically. This was simply a case of the Eagles overwhelming a young quarterback all game long. Johnson had other games like this against lesser opponents, but Seattle had some good players. Their offense had Ricky Watters, Shaun Alexander, Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson, Bobby Engram, and Christian Fauria. Such a dominant performance against that kind of talent was pretty special, even when you factor in the young quarterback.

Eagles 27, Cowboys 3 – December 21, 2002

Donovan McNabb went down in the middle of the 2002 season with a broken ankle. Then Koy Detmer got hurt in his only start. The defense had to really play well when third-string quarterback A.J. Feeley took over. Their best showing came in a late-season matchup with the Cowboys (just what is it about the star on those helmets that brings out the best in the Eagles defense?).

The victim at quarterback was Chad Hutchinson. The defense sacked him seven times, led by N.D. Kalu's two sacks. Dallas was held to 146 total yards and one field goal. This game was a bit of a milestone. It was the last time we played Emmitt Smith, our old nemesis. He had eight carries for 30 yards and was a complete non-factor.

How good was the Eagles defense that night? Dallas failed to cross midfield until late in the third quarter. The Cowboys also didn't convert a single third down in the entire game. The Eagles came up with three takeaways, most notably an interception by Shawn Barber that he returned 80 yards for a touchdown. How's that for doomsday defense?

Eagles 37, Redskins 7 – September 16, 2002

The Eagles lost the season opener at the Titans and then faced a trip to Washington to play the division rival Redskins on Monday night. Washington had won their opener under new coach Steve Spurrier. His offense put up 31 points in the first game and the NFL was wondering if he was going to dominate the pro game the way he had college football.

Jim Johnson and the Eagles defense had other ideas.

They came out blitzing early on. Spurrier built his teams on a complex downfield passing attack. He took pass protection somewhat for granted. Quarterback Shane Matthews paid for that idea. He was knocked out of the game and replaced by Danny Wuerffel. Neither player had much success. The Washington passing attack was limited to underneath throws and finished with only 119 yards through the air. The Eagles came up with a pair of interceptions and four sacks.

Darwin Walker was the ringleader up front. He was only credited with half a sack, but Walker was a disruptive force all game long. My favorite play came just before halftime. We used a three-man line with Walker at left end. He drove the right tackle straight back into the quarterback. Beautiful. Hugh Douglas had a sack and linebacker Carlos Emmons forced a fumble on a trick play involving Champ Bailey on offense.

Washington had 179 yards of offense in the game. Their only points came on a 90-yard punt return by Jacquez Green. The Eagle defense pitched a shutout. Washington didn't cross midfield until the final drive of the first half and never got inside the Eagles 35-yard line.

* Note that the tackle statistics are according to the NFL Gamebook. The coaches review the tape after each game and assign tackles accordingly, which is the basis for the team's official stats at the end of the season.

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