Andy Reid has drawn much acclaim and admiration in his 10 seasons as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He's led the Eagles to six playoff appearances, including one NFC title and Super Bowl berth, and has his team in the playoff hunt again this season as it prepares to visit the Bengals this Sunday.
Jimmy Johnson has been by Reid's side that entire time, coordinating a defense that has built its reputation on being as disruptive as Reid's offense is innovative.
For a Bengals offense that enters this game ranked last out of the 32 teams in the NFL, that's not good news.
"It's a gutsy style of play, an aggressive style of play," said Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones, who played with Johnson and the Eagles from 2004-06. "He has an uncanny ability to find the weak spots and exploit them. Sometimes if its stuff that doesn't look like much he'll still attack it because he believes the defense can get there."
In the last eight seasons the Eagles have ranked first in the NFL in sacks, second in the league in third-down efficiency and red zone touchdown efficiency, and fourth in points allowed. Johnson's defense has continued to live up to those standards this season, ranking in the top 10 of the league in sacks, third-down efficiency and points allowed.
The Eagles are ninth in overall defense and, despite coming off a 36-31 loss against the New York Giants last Sunday night, they are more than capable of dominating a game on defense.
"They are coming from everywhere all of the time pretty much," said left tackle Levi Jones. "Baltimore and Pittsburgh are pretty much set. They've got their guys that they like. Philadelphia, they're bringing everybody all of the time. They like everybody."
Jones will be most responsible for protecting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick against Eagles defensive right end Trent Cole, a product of the University of Cincinnati. Cole has four sacks this season and is one of 12 Philadelphia players who have registered a tally in the team sack total of 28. Darren Howard leads the Eagles with six sacks, which is just three off of the total the Bengals have as a team.
While the Eagles' sack total is No. 4 in the NFL, the Bengals allowance of 30 sacks this season is tied with New England for fourth-worst in the league. Only once this season have the Bengals not yielded at least two sacks in a game – Tennessee got just one in Week 2. The Eagles have had two or more sacks in six of their nine games, including getting to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nine times in a 15-6 win against the Steelers on Sept. 21.
Philadelphia's aggressive style could provide the Bengals with the opportunity to produce big plays, an element that has been woefully absent from the offense. Cincinnati has had just two plays from scrimmage gain more than 30 yards this season. With as much blitzing that the Eagles do, that leaves a lot of man coverage responsibility on the secondary.
"He doesn't put you in a position where you have to cover for too long," said Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins about Johnson's play calling. "Once the blitz is called, it's on the blitzers to get there and on the cover people to cover. You won't be called to cover too long on receivers, but you still sometimes have to cover long guys for a long time, but that's why we get paid."
Johnson is one of seven assistants that have been on Reid's staff since the Eagles hired him in 1999. Reid came to Philadelphia after spending seven seasons as an assistant in Green Bay, the final two seasons in which he was Brett Favre's quarterback coach. He has maintained a heavy influence on the offensive side of the ball, while allowing Johnson to deal with the defense.
"I'm partial, I think he's one of the best," said Reid. "I know there a lot of good coordinators out there, but when you're the head coach and he's yours, you sure trust him and belief. I think there are a lot of people who would love to have Jim Johnson."