Ex-Pats assistant Pepper Johnson pulls no punches in Deadspin interview

Tom E. Curran
NBC Sports Boston

Pepper Johnson spent 32 seasons in the NFL as a player and coach. From 2000 through 2013 he was with the Patriots.

A former player for Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, Johnson was a defensive coaching mainstay and beloved by his players. But when he was passed over for the defensive coordinator spot in favor of Matt Patricia, it rankled him. In 2014, he took the defensive line job with the Bills. A year later, he took the same position with the Jets. He stayed through 2016 then was fired by head coach Todd Bowles.
To date, he hasn't found a new job.

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The launch point in a sprawling interview with Deadspin's Dom Consentino is Johnson's departure from the Jets And there's a lot on their dysfunction from ownership to the coaching staff to what went wrong with Muhammad Wilkerson.

All of it's fascinating. But the headline stuff around here is Johnson's insights on the Patriots and especially Bill Belichick.  

Said Johnson, "Our relationship was strictly football. There wasn't anything outside that-because I mainly just saw [Belichick] in the building, I guess. Whether I was playing for him or working with him, it was always football. So, no, the relationship wasn't the same.

But the characters kind of are different, too. And I would say our relationship, how it came about, it was different. One of my attractions to him was he was the first coach that, granted, it was my first experience in the NFL, that didn't try to tell me how to do something. He told me what he wanted done, and then he allowed me the freedom to get it done however I had to get it done, and if I if I couldn't find a way, then I would ask him - I was big enough I would ask him, and he would tell me."

There's plenty of gossipy stuff, like getting a beer with Belichick, but what I found most telling was Johnson's appraisal of the Patriots defense and what happened in the Super Bowl.

As he begins to speak about philosophy, you can see in his reply the trepidation he has that Belichick will be mad at him for talking.

"What Belichick does-that guy can't do anything to shock me anymore. Like, I've known him forever. But Belichick always worried about the passes. And so his philosophy - and he's, I'm quite quite sure he - well, he won't get mad at me because he knows his philosophy. Like, these guys are not going to change. They probably won't even listen to me, you know, to this interview. What Belichick does, Belichick, what bothers him the most is what he does to other people. So, yeah. Quick passes, and Brady getting the ball out fast and all that stuff.

That's a lot of hemming and hawing to say that the Patriots hate going against teams with offensive styles similar to theirs.

Asked how that played out in the Super Bowl, Johnson said, "That's why neither team could stop each other...The Patriots had a linebacker problem, which was said at this time last year. And then you don't have [Dont'a] Hightower so it's going to be a bigger problem. So if you put two running backs out there at the same time, how much of a nightmare is that going to be for Belichick? Bill never likes two running backs. He never liked playing against two skillful running backs. It's a problem because he can't really cover them with his different combination of coverages with the secondary. The linebackers have to get them. And you need good linebackers."

There's some Spygate fodder and an interesting explanation about the conflicting defensive philosophies between Johnson and other defensive coaches in New York. In short, I recommend!!


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