NFL Nation: Jim Johnson

QB Watch: Cowboys' Tony Romo

October, 16, 2013
A weekly analysis of the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback play:

Rewind: There is something about the Washington Redskins that has affected the Cowboys’ passing game. Tony Romo completed only 60 percent of his passes (a season low) and threw for a season-low 170 yards against the Redskins. He was intercepted once but had a Romo-like touchdown, escaping trouble and finding Terrance Williams for a 15-yard score. Coming off a 506-yard effort against Denver when he was able to get the ball down the field, Romo’s longest completion against the Redskins was just 17 yards to Dez Bryant. Things started out well with Romo completing four of his first five passes for 50 yards on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game, but the Redskins' pressure and tight coverage forced him to be slightly off for the first time this season.

Fast-forward: For most of his career, Romo could expect to see a wide variety of blitzes from the Eagles' defense with the influence of former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson still being felt after he stopped coaching. Romo has yet to go against a Bill Davis-led defense in his career, but he has gone against Davis’ influences in the past that have employed similar schemes. He has had some success but also struggled at times against the confusing looks. Philadelphia, however, is allowing 314.5 yards per game through the air, which is 31st in the NFL. Without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys' running game figures to be limited at least a little, so Romo will have to make plays through the air.

Mixing it around: The Cowboys have had 12 different players catch at least one pass in the first six games. Rookie running back Joseph Randle became the 12th with two catches against Washington. While Jason Witten is the security blanket and Bryant is the big-play receiver, Romo is at his best when he mixes it around. He had six different receivers versus the Redskins. He had eight different receivers two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos. He’s not afraid to go to Williams or Cole Beasley in a tight spot if needed. Six different receivers have caught Romo’s 14 touchdown passes. The ability to spread the ball makes it that much harder for a defense to key in on one or two targets. By going to so many different players, Romo is making his job a little easier.

Prediction: Romo was held to only 130 yards fewer than what I predicted he would get against the Redskins. In his two road games so far -- losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers -- he has thrown for 544 yards. Let’s split it down the middle and say he throws for 272 yards against the Eagles and comes up with two touchdown passes as well. He has yet to throw an interception on the road this year, but that streak will end against Philadelphia. It doesn’t mean the Cowboys will lose though, does it?

The Eagles have ditched the blitz

November, 2, 2011
The Philadelphia Eagles honored the late Jim Johnson, their longtime defensive coordinator, at halftime of Sunday night's victory over the Cowboys. But the way the Eagles play defense now is dramatically different from the way they played it under Johnson and the last two years for his successor, Sean McDermott. Jeff McLane writes of the conscious decision by Andy Reid and his defensive staff to move away from the blitz-heavy defenses of Eagles past and into a mode where their front four is responsible for pressuring quarterbacks:
All 22 of the Eagles' sacks this season -- they are fourth in the NFL in sacks per pass play -- have come from defensive linemen. Jason Babin has nine, Cullen Jenkins five, Trent Cole four, Darryl Tapp two, Trevor Laws one, and Mike Patterson one.

This was by design.

After firing McDermott in January, the first coaching move Andy Reid made was to lure defensive line coach Jim Washburn away from Tennessee. Washburn had said before that if a team has to blitz more than necessary, then its front four isn't doing its job.

A few weeks after Washburn was hired, Castillo was named coordinator. At an introductory news conference in February, it became clear that Castillo would adopt a more conservative approach than his predecessors.

Simplification was the buzz word.

"If you blitz all the time," Washburn said then, "you'll get killed."

There was a lot of talk in the Eagles' locker room late Sunday night about how they all expected it to take time for all of the new players and all of the new coaches to get together on the same page in the new defensive system. There was a lot of change in the offseason and a lot asked of a lot of people in a short period of time. But in Sunday night's game, everything the Eagles wanted to do on defense (and on offense, for that matter) seemed to work. One of the keys has been the ability of the coaching staff to get the players to continue buying into the new ideas even when they weren't working and the team was losing four games in a row.

The Eagles beefed up on the defensive line in the offseason because, if you're going to rely on your front four to create pressure, you need to have a great front four. The talent and depth they acquired with guys like Jenkins and Babin allow them to put Washburn's theories into practice. You may still see the Eagles blitz every now and then, but when they do it's going to be to throw a changeup. It's no longer the basis of their defensive philosophy. This would seem a far more efficient way of doing things. Time will tell if the Eagles can make it an effective one long-term.

Quick take: Packers at Eagles

January, 2, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday's Green Bay Packers-Philadelphia Eagles wild-card game:

1. The Green Bay Packers are responsible for the Michael Vick Phenomenon, circa 2010. It was the Packers, specifically linebacker Clay Matthews, who knocked out Philadelphia Eagles starter Kevin Kolb in a Week 1 game at Lincoln Financial Field. Vick rushed for 103 yards and rallied the Eagles from a 27-10 fourth-quarter deficit. Matthews stopped him on a fourth-down rushing attempt to seal a 27-20 victory, but Vick's performance while Kolb recovered from his concussion ultimately won him the Eagles' starting job. "We're going to have our hands full," Matthews said. "We know what kind of a caliber player he is. We're going to have to shut him down to have a chance."

2. Before winning in Week 1, the Packers had lost nine consecutive games in Philadelphia. (And we won't even bring up 4th-and-26.) But the only thing that matters is what this Packers team has done this season. And in 2010, the Packers were 3-5 on the road. But two of those victories came against playoff teams -- the Eagles and New York Jets -- and overall the Packers are 21-19 on the road since coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006. This is a team that won't be unsettled by playing in a relatively unfamiliar environment.

3. Many observers will use "attacking" and "multiple" as adjectives to describe the Eagles' defense. But the same thing can be said about the Packers. In Sunday's 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears, the Packers blitzed a defensive back on 19 plays, including 16 in the second half. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is every bit as unpredictable as Eagles coordinator Sean McDermott, who has inherited and expanded the scheme created by the late Jim Johnson.
With the New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings matchup just a few hours away, now is the perfect time to pick up our weekly Air and Space analysis. (The timing is fortuitous, too, considering our plan once again is to post this staple every Thursday afternoon.)

The twist for this season: We'll do our best to incorporate the NFC North's collective response to our precedent-setting shift toward the passing game. We obviously don't have any numbers to use for that angle yet. But considering the Saints' tendency toward pressure defense, I thought it would be interesting to re-enforce how each of our starting quarterbacks performed against the blitz last season and compare it to the 2009 blitz frequency of their Week 1 opponents.

(Remember, we define the blitz as five or more pass rushers.)

The first chart shows how three of the quarterbacks actually threw better against the blitz than they did against standard rushers schemes. Only Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre had a lower passer rating against the blitz, and even then it was 96.2.

The second chart lists our Week 1 opponents and how frequently they blitzed in 2009. Tendencies can change over an offseason, but it's worth noting that none of those four teams have changed schemes and only one -- the Chicago Bears -- have a new coordinator. The upshot is that NFC North teams are scheduled to play three of 2009's top six blitzing teams in Week 1.

I'll be especially interested to see how the Philadelphia Eagles approach the Green Bay Packers, who were somewhat of a paradox last season after giving up 50 sacks while also boasting the NFL's top passer against the blitz. Aaron Rodgers completed 68.2 percent of his passes and produced an amazing 9.2 yards per attempt in those situations.

The Eagles defense is coordinated by Sean McDermott -- who runs most of the pressure-heavy schemes of his predecessor, the late Jim Johnson. But in Week 1, any scheme surprise is possible. Hold tight.

Eagles re-sign LB Gaither

March, 31, 2010
The Philadelphia Eagles just announced that restricted free-agent linebacker Omar Gaither has signed his one-year tender offer. Gaither, who missed all but five games of the '09 season with a Lisfranc sprain, has started 34 games for the Eagles since being drafted in the fifth round in '06.

The late Jim Johnson benched Gaither in favor of Akeem Jordan late in the '08 season. When Jeremiah Trotter was released before the '07 season, it was believed Gaither would be an upgrade at middle linebacker. But the young player has never looked comfortable as a starter. If he makes the team in 2010, he'll need to be a valuable part of Bobby April's special teams unit.

We'll keep you posted on the players who haven't signed their tenders. The versatile guard/center Nick Cole hasn't signed his tender at this point. I think the Eagles would be wise to pay Cole a little money and lock him up for a few seasons, but it doesn't look like it will happen before the April 15 deadline.

Eagles' D has a long way to go

February, 11, 2010

AP Photo/Mike FuentesThe Eagles Asante Samuel may be a Pro-Bowler, but he's not exactly a "shut-down corner."
It's been more than a month since the Eagles' season ended in Arlington, Texas, but we've been able to mention the Donovan McNabb situation on a daily basis. It's one of the most compelling storylines of the NFL offseason, but it's not the most important issue the organization is facing.

If the Eagles don't fix their defense, it really won't matter whether it's McNabb or Kevin Kolb behind center. I've already ruled out Michael Vick as the starter despite at least one report that the Eagles are just dying to pay the man his $5 million in 2010. (Since Vick is hosting at least seven NBA All-Star parties in Dallas this weekend, I'll try to catch up with him.)

The Eagles failed spectacularly in December and early January, in part, because they had no answers for Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Felix Jones. You can blame it on the departure of Brian Dawkins, a season-ending injury to middle linebacker Stewart Bradley or the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. But the Eagles weren't the only team in the league to face adversity in '09.

The club can't afford to obsess about the quarterback position this offseason at the expense of the rest of the roster. There's simply too much work to be done on defense. Eagles president Joe Banner told the club's Web site earlier this week that he didn't think the gap between the Eagles and Cowboys was as wide as those final two games indicated. And that sort of sentiment should scare the hell out of Eagles fans.

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRECoordinator Sean McDermott's Eagles defense needs to find some answers in the offseason.
Sean McDermott's defense had no hope against the Cowboys because there was not a single player who could match up with Witten. Assigning linebackers such as Will Witherspoon and Moise Fokou to cover Witten is an absolute farce. Even if the Eagles accounted for Witten, it just opened things up for Austin and Crayton across the middle.

The return of Bradley will certainly help the Eagles' cause but this defense isn't one player away from making noise in the playoffs. Everyone wants to talk about letting Dawkins get away, but I'd argue that the lack of depth at cornerback is just as big of an issue. You have to admire Sheldon Brown for playing through pain on numerous occasions, but that doesn't cancel out the fact that he was a liability at times.

Asante Samuel will always go to Pro Bowls based on his gaudy interception totals -- and those are important. But Samuel's reluctance to make contact with ball carriers will continue to be a sore spot with coaches and fans. Let's not act like Samuel's a so-called shut-down corner. I'm pretty sure Deion Sanders was the last man to fulfill that role. Samuel is one of the biggest gamblers in the game, which makes the Eagles susceptible to the big play (Austin on the sideline).

I know it's fashionable to talk about taking the "best player available" in the draft, but the Eagles better make sure that player can cover a wide receiver. Who do you guys trust in the Eagles' secondary? I still think Quintin Mikell's a quality player, but he was exposed when he had to line up next to inferior talent.

I think the Eagles would be wise to either trade for a veteran safety or find one in free agency, like the Cowboys did with Gerald Sensabaugh last March. Sean Jones certainly wasn't the answer last offseason and Quintin Demps is firmly entrenched in Andy Reid's doghouse. I think it's extremely difficult to ask a rookie to make an immediate impact at the safety position because of its complexities.

The Eagles were so desperate in the secondary at one point this season that they signed a former Mr. Irrelevant who couldn't stick with the Detroit Lions. I would identify the best two or three cornerbacks in this draft and try to get one of them at No. 24. I know you're not exactly set along the offensive line but teams such as the Colts (and even the Eagles) have shown that you can find starters in the later rounds.

Then there's this little thing about finding another pressure player to take some heat off defensive end Trent Cole. And for the record, I don't think it would be wise to dump a bunch of free-agent money into signing Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who might be asking for Albert Haynesworth money, which sounds ludicrous to me. Haynesworth, who is a couple years younger than Peppers, signed a contract that included $41 million in guaranteed money.

There's no chance I'd make that type of commitment to Peppers, who had 10.5 sacks for a bad Panthers team in '09. The Eagles spent roughly $30 million on defensive end Jevon Kearse before finally cutting their losses following the '07 season. Kearse was younger than Peppers when he arrived in Philly and he was an enormous disappointment even before a season-ending knee injury in 2006.

The ubiquitous scout turned broadcaster/writer Mike Lombardi has suggested the Eagles trading backup quarterback Kevin Kolb for Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. And isn't a 31-year-old defensive tackle with a checkered past exactly what the Eagles need to finally win a Super Bowl?

No, I'm afraid there won't be a lot of shortcuts available in trying to catch up with Wade Phillips and the Cowboys. Andy Reid and his new boy wonder general manager Howie Roseman are going to have to close the gap via the draft. The Eagles have obviously hit big on offensive players such as DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin in recent drafts.

Now, they desperately need to rebuild a defense that seemed to become old and slow overnight. Or maybe you agree with Banner in that those two blowouts at the end of the season were an aberration.
  AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano
  With Plaxico Burress facing a two-year prison term, the former Giant's NFL future is very much in doubt.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

Now that former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress has pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and agreed to a two-year prison term, you must wonder if his career in the NFL is over. It's important to remember that Michael Vick reported to prison two years ago at age 27, which should've been the prime of his career.

Vick hasn't taken a hit in two seasons and Eagles coach Andy Reid said he was only a couple of pounds overweight when he reported for duty last Friday. I think it's safe to assume that Vick's young enough that his legs didn't deteriorate all that much from two years away from the game.

Burress is a completely different story. He turned 32 earlier this month and even if he gets out in 20 months for good behavior, he'll be 34 by the time the 2011 season begins. It's not like he's going to lose any of his height (6-foot-5) in prison, and that's an attribute that helped make him an elite receiver in this league. Even at age 34, Burress could be a matchup problem for smaller cornerbacks.

Although Burress has never had elite quickness or explosion, those are things that naturally fade as players get older. Will Burress lose his acceleration and burst while sitting in prison? I think we can all agree the answer is yes.

"I don't think there's a lot of margin for error in terms of his speed," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "You have to think some of that's going away while he's in prison."

Marvin Harrison's one of the all-time great receivers to play in this league. By all accounts, he's relatively healthy right now at age 36. But the man can't find a job -- even with his former coach Tony Dungy actively campaigning for him. It's naive to think that Burress could sit in a prison for 20 months and then return to Pro Bowl status. It's not like he's a physical specimen such as Terrell Owens, a man who doesn't seem to age.

At best, I think Burress would come back as a second or third receiver who could help a team in the red zone. I certainly don't think he'll be a player that defensive coordinators will have to devise game plans around anymore. The late Jim Johnson talked about how much easier it was to prepare for the Giants when Burress wasn't on the field. He's not going to have that same impact at age 34.

There's also the question of whether Burress would face a suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I think 20 months behind bars would be more than enough punishment. He made a serious mistake last November, but at least in my mind, Vick's crime was far more heinous. In retrospect, Burress would've been better off agreeing to this prison sentence seven months ago. That means he could've been out of prison by October 2010 and possibly resumed his career at age 33. But try as he might, he can't turn the clock back now.

Judging by what we've seen with Vick, Burress would be wise to go ahead and put Dungy on retainer. But at this point, I think it's fair to say his NFL future looks pretty bleak.

  Chris Gardner/US Presswire
  Rampant injuries are threatening the continuity Eagles coach Andy Reid prefers at training camp.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Despite the serenity and cool air (except for Monday) found in Lehigh Valley, the Eagles can't get out of here fast enough. In addition to dealing with the loss of beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer, the Eagles have seen players carted off the field with injuries at a daily clip.

Camp Confidential: NFC East
Cowboys: Fri., Aug. 7
Eagles: Tues., Aug. 11
Giants: Mon., Aug. 17
Redskins: Fri., Aug. 21
Training camp index
"It starts to get to you a little bit," said tight end Brent Celek. "It just all sort of happened at once. But you can't sit here and dwell on it."

Celek was particularly concerned to see his training-camp roommate and close friend, Stewart Bradley, suffer a season-ending knee injury during an intra-squad scrimmage at the Linc. But head coach Andy Reid scoffs when asked if he's ever experienced anything like this. In his mind, the injuries are part of football and they've created opportunities for other players.

"I don't get caught up in all that stuff," Reid said. "You're sad for the person who goes through it, but on the other hand, you have to expect these things. Let's go play football."

Most pundits, including this one, have the Eagles as a top-five team in the league. But I'll admit the lack of continuity along the offensive line has me re-thinking my position. Continuity is one of Reid's favorite words, and right now his starting right tackle, Shawn Andrews, might not be ready for the start of the regular season.

  Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE
  Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been unstoppable at training camp.
On the positive side, I don't think Donovan McNabb has ever had this many weapons on offense. Second-year receiver DeSean Jackson has been dominant in camp. The Eagles have a talented secondary, but not even All-Pro Asante Samuel has come close to covering Jackson. With the addition of first-round pick Jeremy Maclin and steady players such as Jason Avant and Kevin Curtis, I'm convinced the Eagles have the best receiving corps in the NFC East.

Maclin is still playing catch-up after his contract holdout, but he's supremely gifted and confident. He bristled at the suggestion that he might not earn a starting job immediately.

"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," Maclin said. "I'm going to make sure I do everything possible to be on the field."

Maclin's trying to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense on the fly, but he's an extremely intelligent player who should catch on quickly. Right now, though, it's Jackson who's drawing the most attention in camp. He's so quick off the line that no one can get a jam on him. That's where Maclin has room for improvement. He wasn't seeing jams at the line of scrimmage against Iowa State or Kansas State in the Big 12 North. He'll have to get stronger and become more aggressive.

Key Questions

Can the Eagles overcome all the injuries from training camp?

Losing your starting middle linebacker (Bradley) and talented rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram isn't a good way to begin the season, but one of Jim Johnson's greatest strengths was preparing young players for moments exactly like this. Joe Mays, a second-year player from North Dakota State, probably will play middle linebacker on first and second down. He'll get help from former starter Omar Gaither on passing downs. Mays, a sixth-round draft pick, is short (5-foot-11), but he brings a lot of power to the point of attack. I don't know how he'll hold up in regular-season games, but he's consistently making plays in camp.

Perhaps the bigger concern right now is Shawn Andrews' back injury. He missed training camp last season while battling depression and then promptly injured his back. Some have questioned Andrews' passion for the game, but the Eagles have insisted that he really is hurt. If he can't go, Eagles fans can get reacquainted with former first-round pick Winston Justice at right tackle.

Will Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy give the Eagles a dual threat at running back?

Westbrook has started to increase his workload on the side and he should be ready to go late in the preseason. At this point, it's not as if he needs a ton of carries in the preseason. I visited with McCoy on Monday until Jackson ordered h
im to go sign autographs. The second-round pick has looked comfortable in the Eagles' offense from Day 1 of camp. He's an instinctive runner who's already adept at setting up his blockers. I think Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are looking to get McCoy the ball in a variety of ways. Early in camp, he got behind the secondary for a 35-yard touchdown. He caught a lot of balls at Pittsburgh and his soft hands will give the Eagles another option. I think they want McCoy to touch the ball at least 10-12 times per game -- right from the start.

Who will win position battles at safety and cornerback?

I've been very impressed with veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown's approach to this camp following an offseason of complaints about his contract. He went high to break up a pass in team drills Monday and he's working hard to hold off former Patriots starter Ellis Hobbs. I think coaches will let those players battle throughout the preseason, but Brown's getting the majority of the reps with the first team. Hobbs is learning the Eagles' defense on the fly, so he's not as aggressive right now as he's used to being. But coaches like the fact that Hobbs has a chip on his shoulder after being traded from New England. And with all the injuries, the Eagles need to create as much depth as possible.

At safety, Quintin Demps is getting most of the first-team reps. Sean Jones, signed as a free agent from Cleveland, has been solid, though. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hasn't handed the starting job to either player, and that has made for some good competition.

Market watch

It will be interesting to see how many receivers the Eagles keep on the roster. They have some depth and youth at the position, which leaves players such as Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett on the bubble. It's not helping Brown and Baskett's cause that a rookie from Washington State named Brandon Gibson is having a strong camp. You have to believe that Jackson, Curtis, Maclin and Avant are locks. If the Eagles only keep five receivers, there's a chance they go with a kid like Gibson. Former Texas Tech Red Raider Danny Amendola is a Wes Welker starter kit, but he looks more like practice-squad material to me. At linebacker, keep your eye on Moise Fokou, a seventh-round pick from Maryland. He's making plays all over the field, but we'll see if he can take it into the preseason games.

  Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE
  All eyes are on Eagles first-round pick Jeremy Maclin.
Newcomer to watch

I'll have my eye on Maclin pretty closely in the preseason. I think he's going to struggle getting off the line at first. And his route running will be something to watch. He's a fluid player who doesn't mind going across the middle, but right now, you can tell that he's still thinking too much. He might be one of those players who sort of comes alive in the preseason. That was certainly the case with Jackson last season.

Observation deck

There's a second-year running back named Eldra Buckley from Tennessee-Chattanooga who could be a good change-of-pace back. I don't think Lorenzo Booker is long for this team despite what anyone tells you. He dropped a pass in Monday's practice and the coaches don't trust him to pick up blitzes. He has been around too long for that to still be an issue. ... I think Celek's on his way to becoming a big-time player. Very humble guy, but he showed up when the stakes were high last December and January. He also has been studying tape of Jason Witten to learn some pointers. I like that Celek takes a lot of pride in blocking too. The NFC East is absolutely stacked at tight end. ... One of the reasons Reid isn't panicking about the offensive line situation is that he has a lot of faith in backups such as Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles. The Eagles have done a pretty good job of creating depth along the offensive line and you can bet they're not going to sit around waiting for Shawn Andrews to show up. ... If offensive tackle King Dunlap ever realizes what sort of physical tools he's been given, he could be a good player. Not sure he's there yet. ... The signing of left tackle Jason Peters jump-started the Eagles' offseason. I watched him stone defensive ends on consecutive plays Monday. He's a pretty impressive-looking player. He still has the footwork of a tight end, his position at Arkansas, but he can engulf defenders with his power. I think he'll be the best left tackle in the division -- and he better be for that money. ... McNabb still appears to be having fun in camp. On Monday, he took off running when he couldn't find a receiver. Instead of stepping out of bounds, he tight-roped down the sideline, much to the delight of Eagles fans. ... I've heard good things about Latrobe, but I can't imagine a better setting than this one. Gorgeous green meadows in every direction and great access for fans. It's a shame the Eagles are breaking camp so early (Wednesday), although you won't hear any complaints from them.

Posted by's Matt Mosley

The loss of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson earlier this afternoon has saddened folks across the league. Johnson was admired by many coaches -- especially those on the defensive side of the ball. He served as a mentor for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who just released this statement:

"I loved Jim Johnson," said Harbaugh. "This is a sad day for so many people who were touched by this great man. Ingrid and I, the Harbaugh family, and the Ravens have Jim's wife, Vicky, and the Johnson family in our thoughts and prayers. Jim was a tremendous teacher of football and life. He had a special ability to bring out the best in people while getting you to see the best in yourself. He saw potential and developed it. He made me believe I could coach at this level. In football, he was a pioneering and brilliant strategist, changing the way defense is played in the NFL. For me, he was a father-type mentor, and above all, a cherished friend. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. I will miss him so much."

That is one of the coolest things that I have always heard about Johnson. He never felt threatened by up-and-coming assistants. In fact, he went out of his way to impart wisdom so that they could advance in the profession. Johnson is a huge reason why Harbaugh and Steve Spagnuolo are head coaches in this league. He was a confident guy who never let ambition get in the way of creating valuable relationships. 

Giants coach Tom Coughlin also released a statement about Johnson's passing:

"It is a sad, very sad, day," said Coughlin. "I talked recently to (Eagles video director) Mike Dougherty and asked him to let Jim know that I was thinking about him, and I had dropped Jim a note to let him know as well. Forget about what kind of coach he was…he was an excellent, excellent defensive coach, and he trained others to be the same. We know what Steve Spagnuolo meant to us. We had great respect for Jim, and he had great respect for us. I didn't know Jim personally, but we would always talk to each other, mostly about the NFC East and what a great, competitive division it is. It was a respectful critique about what great players, coaches and organizations there are within the division. In talking with people who worked with Jim, you sense what a class act Jim was. He was great to work with and for, and he had his priorities in order. His players loved to play for him and his coaches loved to coach with him. It is a sad day for the National Football League to lose somebody the quality of Jim Johnson. It is a sad note on which to start the season. He coached right up to the very end.”


Posted by's Matt Mosley

You knew when the Eagles announced last week that Sean McDermott would become the permanent defensive coordinator that his mentor Jim Johnson was in really bad shape. Johnson took a leave of absence last May to battle a cancerous tumor on his spine. On Tuesday, Johnson, one of the best defensive minds of the past 25 years in the league, passed away at age 68

He leaves behind a legion of admirers, both in the Eagles' locker room and among fans. As he battled cancer late in the 2008 season, he started using a cane. But he loathed talking about his discomfort. He wanted to be on the sideline to give instant feedback to his players, but he was forced to coach from the press box. 

After the playoff win over the Vikings, I recall Johnson sitting at a stool in front of his locker taking questions for 30 minutes after the game. He was willing to do that after a win or loss. Johnson was often referred to as an defensive genius, but he never really enjoyed that label.

He was the rare assistant in the NFL who never obsessed about being a head coach. I think he could have been a good one, but he relished the opportunity to coach the defense. In my opinion, he was the best in the business at making adjustments on the fly. 

I remember asking linebacker Stewart Bradley one time how many blitz packages Johnson would take to a game. He told me the number was around 22 heading into the playoff game against the Giants last season. Most defensive coordinators take seven or eight blitzes to a game. 

It sounds like Andy Reid was able to see Johnson one last time Monday. Reid is not the sentimental type, but I always got the feeling that he really looked up to Johnson. He was a coach who had a wealth of knowledge from all his years in the game, but he was also willing to change on a dime. 

Like everyone, I had hoped Johnson would coach again. I know he would have hated retirement. At 68, he didn't seem to be losing any passion for the game. 

Now the Eagles will have to move on without him. In many ways, he'll still be there. He has left a legacy that will last many years. And I'm sure the Eagles will dedicate the 2009 season to him. 

Please feel free to share your favorite memories of Johnson.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Jim Johnson was a terrific coach long before making a name for himself nationally as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. He spent eight seasons with the Cardinals and one with the Seahawks, among other stops, before landing with Philadelphia in 1999.

Johnson's death from cancer Tuesday at age 68 robbed the NFL of a likeable man. He was linebackers coach for Seattle in 1998, my first season as an NFL beat reporter. Johnson was generous with his insight and seemed to enjoy helping others learn about the game. 

The Seahawks watched Johnson join Andy Reid's inaugural Eagles staff as coordinator in 1999 before they knew Mike Holmgren's longtime defensive coordinator in Green Bay, Fritz Shurmur, would die of cancer before coaching a single game in Seattle. 

With Johnson in Philadelphia, Holmgren went through four defensive coordinators during his tenure. A team could have done worse than to have Holmgren running the offense and Johnson running the defense.

Johnson, known for his pressure defenses, credited the mid-1990s 49ers for shaping his defensive philosophy.

Johnson: "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." 

Johnson found ways to do it more effectively than most. He will be missed. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who worked under Johnson in Philadelphia, credited Johnson for positively impacting his coaching career.

Spagnuolo: "My wife Maria and I are deeply saddened to hear of Jim's passing. He was a dear friend and a special person. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his wife Vicki and their family. Jim meant the world to me, both personally and professionally. I am very blessed to have had the privilege to work for him and with him. The NFL has lost a good man."

Posted by ESPN's Sal Paolantonio

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles announced the inevitable on Friday -- that the sage and highly successful Jim Johnson, who is fighting for his life against cancer, will not be returning to the team this season, and that interim defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will take his place when training camp opens on Sunday.

  Chris Gardner/Getty Images
  Jim Johnson had been the defensive coordinator for the Eagles for 10 years.

This decision has been coming since May, when McDermott took over temporarily during minicamp. Nevertheless, it came as a shock to many of Philadelphia's veteran defensive players.

"Jim is going to be missed. He is a unique coach," said cornerback Sheldon Brown, the lone remaining defensive starter from the Eagles Super Bowl team in 2005. "Guys like him come around only once a generation. You think of Monte Kiffin, Rex Ryan and Dick LeBeau, and Jim. He's in that kind of a league."

Under Johnson, the Eagles have ranked near the top in almost every important defensive category in the last decade. Since 2000, the Eagles have been second in sacks (390), tied for second in tackles for a loss (457), second in forced fumbles (159), second in red zone efficiency (43.9 percent), and second in third down efficiency (34 percent). During the Johnson era, the Eagles have finished fourth in the NFL in points allowed -- just 17.7 per game.

McDermott is certainly a capable young coach and has an intricate knowledge of Johnson's fire zone blitz scheme.

The challenge facing McDermott is whether he can quickly duplicate Johnson's uncanny ability to devise new wrinkles week after week, and then call the defensive signals when the real games begin on Sept. 13.

"The thing about Jim was his ability to watch what was happening on the field and counterpunch," said former Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard, who now plays for Ryan in New York. "That takes knowledge and ability; Sean has that. But it also takes instincts and experience. And you can only get that by doing it."

Johnson's absence will have the biggest impact on head coach Andy Reid. Formulating and calling the offense in his 10 years in Philadelphia, Reid has had the benefit of Donovan McNabb as the starter and stabilizing force.

Johnson had Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins. But Dawkins fled to Denver. Without Dawkins and Johnson, and McDermott learning on the fly, Reid will have to keep one eye on the defense for the first time in his tenure in Philadelphia. Reid will have to be far more involved in devising defensive game plans than ever before.

"This will be a big test for all us," said Brown, who said he will be in training camp on time after being a no-show at voluntary minicamps in a contract dispute. "It will be interesting to see how things go if we get off to a slow start defensively. That'll be the big test. Without Jim there, how do we react and regroup?"

Sal Paolantonio, a former Eagles beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, covers the NFL for ESPN. Illustration
  There are many memorable moments from the last 10 years to savor.

 Posted by's Matt Mosley

This decade has brought us some amazing moments in the NFL, many of which have been captured during's all-decade week. And if something remarkable happens in '09 (such as the Lions making the playoffs), we reserve the right to amend some of our results.

All-Decade Honors
Monday: Defense
Tuesday: Offense
Wednesday: Moments
Thursday: Team, coach, MVP | Rankings
Friday: Top players | Special teams

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So far, you've read about the all-decade defensive and offensive teams for the years beginning with 2000 and ending with the '08 season. I spent a good portion of the NFL owners' meeting and my subsequent vacation trying to identify some of the most memorable characters and moments from the decade.

After consulting with coaches, scouts, media guides and fellow bloggers, I've compiled a list of things that stood out over a nine-year period. Please act responsibly as we continue to celebrate's all-decade week -- otherwise known as a blogger's summer oasis.

  John David Mercer/US PRESSWIRE
  David Tyree's 32-yard circus catch kept the Giants' game-winning drive alive in Super Bowl XLII.

Play of the decade: In Super Bowl XLII, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning appeared to be going down for a sack late in the fourth quarter when he somehow escaped and hurled the ball in the general direction of reserve wide receiver David Tyree. Even with Rodney Harrison ripping at him, Tyree somehow trapped the ball against his helmet and came down with it. It was one of the greatest plays in league history -- and it gave Tyree the basis for his first book. There were a lot of memorable plays in the decade, but nothing could match the Manning-to-Tyree special.

Personnel man of the decade: Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian is ranked pretty high, but everyone you talk to across the league mentions Scott Pioli first. Now the GM for the Kansas City Chiefs, Pioli joined Bill Belichick in building the team of the decade, the New England Patriots. According to one longtime scout, "No one in the league does a better job of scouting their own team, and Pioli was orchestrating all of that."

The Patriots have had the magic touch when it comes to reclamation projects such as Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. But much like the Baltimore Ravens, they always seem to know when it's time to say goodbye to a player. Pioli has a keen eye when it comes to projecting players in Belichick's defense. Now we'll see what he can do with the Chiefs.

Scandal of the decade: Let's stay with the Patriots on this one. The Michael Vick dogfighting story was stunning, but Spygate was bigger because it threatened the integrity of the league. There were so many different layers to the story and it cast doubt on a head coach and his team's remarkable run. Belichick is still regarded as the mad genius in New England, but his violation of league rules will have a lasting impact on his legacy -- unless you're a Patriots fan.

  Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty Images
  Tom Brady's apparent fumble was overturned and the Patriots beat the Raiders 16-13 in overtime.

Most memorable
officiating call
: We know what San Diego Chargers fans are thinking, but when thinking back over the decade, the "tuck rule game" has to be the signature call. It was Jan. 19, 2002, and it appeared Oakland Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson had just sealed a trip to the AFC title game by sacking Tom Brady and knocking the ball loose. Instead, Brady's fumble was overturned because of the little-known "tuck rule," which was quietly enacted in 1999. The rule still doesn't make a lot of sense. But it helped launch the Patriots' dynasty. Anyone remember New England's starting wide receivers in the game? That's right, David Patten and Troy Brown.

Best owner: Sort of hard not to give it to Patriots owner Bob Kraft, but let's give a lifetime achievement award to Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Dan Rooney. After all these years, he's still perhaps the most respected voice in the room. But Kraft wins the all-decade award. He brought a fan's perspective to ownership, and that's what breathed life into the franchise. And he gave Belichick another head-coaching opportunity after a failed stint with the Cleveland Browns.

Best NFL commercial: Since Peyton Manning starred in 82.7 percent of all NFL commercials, it's hard to pass him over. His work for MasterCard stands above the rest. The one where he's doing some yoga with Brian Urlacher and Michael Strahan has stood the test of time -- at least in our minds.


Most prolific locks: The faux-hawk tried to make a comeback, but Troy Polamalu may be the most identifiable player in uniform because of his unwieldy look. Polamalu achieved it by not getting his hair cut this decade.

Funniest player: The NFL doesn't really have an answer to Charles Barkley, although Clinton Portis had a nice run a few years ago when he came up with several alter egos. Let's give it to one of Portis' teammates, tight end Chris Cooley. Occasionally he crosses the line (accidentally publishing a picture of his manhood on The Cooley Zone blog), but he's consistently funny. Still love that he walked out to midfield a couple of years ago and introduced himself to the opposing captains as "Captain Chaos." There's not enough of that type stuff going around.

Best touchdown celebration: Terrell Owens and Moss had their moments, but Chad Ochocinco is by far the best. He has played golf with the pylon (no longer allowed) and he has donned a replica Hall of Fame coat after a touchdown on "Monday Night Football."

  AP Photo/David Kohl
  Chad Ochocinco had a number of the most memorable touchdown celebrations in the last 10 years.

Best first-down celebration: No one celebrates a new set of downs like Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams. He takes the ball and delivers an emphatic first-down signal. It's not as good as Ed Hochuli's "Guns of Navarone" approach, but Williams doesn't hold anything back.

The most troubled player award: Adam "Pacman" Jones became the poster child for Roger Goodell's tough stance on player (mis)conduct. Pacman is an "Outside the Lines" report waiting to happen.

Most feared player: Until the horse-collar rule put him out of business, former Cowboys safety Roy Williams was well on his way to winning this title. But his descent into mediocrity was steep. Rodney Harrison of the Patriots wins the award. He was regarded as a dirty player by some, but his presence definitely made receivers think twice about going across the middle. John Lynch was a feared player early in the decade, but Harrison eventually surpassed him. James Harrison is closing fast as we prepare to close the books on the decade.

Best assistant coach: It's a tie between two elder statesmen, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. We're all pulling for Johnson as he battles cancer. He's been remarkably consistent over the years and I put him and LeBeau just barely ahead of former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's awfully quiet here at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Arizona is struggling to maintain its lead against a Philadelphia team that is getting after quarterback Kurt Warner.

With 3:42 left in the third quarter, the Eagles have outgained the Cardinals 104 yards to 1. Arizona's most recent possession went like this: Incomplete pass, incomplete pass, sack, punt.

This is especially unusual for the Cardinals, who were the NFL's highest-scoring team in the third quarter during the regular season. But Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has found a blitz combination that is getting to Warner.

Cardinals fans are trying to muster enthusiasm, but it's clear that many people are concerned about an Eagles comeback. Stay tuned.

Bone-headed play by Demps

January, 18, 2009
Posted by's Matt Mosley

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Eagles appear to be losing their poise. The Cardinals may have been content to settle for a 21-6 halftime lead, but then rookie safety Quintin Demps decided to cheap-shot quarterback Kurt Warner a full two seconds after he delivered the ball.

The Eagles have been called for two late-hit penalties on Warner, and both of them have been silly. The Demps thing was inexcusable. If I'm Andy Reid, I'm getting the kid off the field.

Now the Cards have a legitimate shot of making this thing 24-6 at halftime. Or they could just throw the ball in the general direction of Larry Fitzgerald and take a 28-6 lead.

Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has to be beside himself. How in the world is Fitzgerald seeing man-to-man coverage on some of these plays?