In a season that could contain make-or-break circumstances for everyone in the Bears organization from the front office to the coaching staff to many of the players on the field, job performance will be heavily scrutinized for all involved. And after the conclusion of the first half of the season, it’s obvious that no job has been executed flawlessly and uncertainty still remains.
But if we’re going to start lining up players, coaches, and front office personnel in front of the firing squad, it would seem to me that Julius Peppers is one of the last men to be ushered into line.
Late Monday morning and early afternoon while listening to the Danny Mac Show on WSCR 670 The Score, Matt Spiegel brought to the attention of the listeners a gripe he had with those who were being critical of Peppers’ performance this season. He argued, and I agree, that the defensive end’s sack total — which currently stands at two — should not be the foremost indicator of the kind of success and impact on the team that Peppers is having.
Sacks more often than not come as a result of great team defense. Sure, there are occasional one-on-one situations in which a sack is the result of the defender beating his blocker and it has nothing to do with who is lining up next to him. But when Peppers — or any lineman for that matter — faces constant double teams, recording sacks is difficult to do.
I’m going to use a basketball analogy to help illustrate my point. If a team wanted to shut down, or at least contain a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, they can double team those players and limit the amount of impact that player will have. The issue that teams will then run into is that Bryant or James could pass the ball off to the open teammate and that player could then burn the opponent.
But what if Bryant or James were playing four-on-five and there was no open teammate? Suddenly those guys would look a lot less potent, don’t you think?
Who is Peppers’ “open teammate?” Thus far, Israel Idonije has been the beneficiary of the extra attention that Peppers has received. Idonije has recorded five sacks and has made several key plays — such as the tipped passed that led to an interception return for D.J. Moore against Washington two weeks ago.
Nobody can fault Peppers for playing alongside a dud in Tommie Harris. And Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams are hardly pass-rush specialists. Furthermore, the Bears’ secondary is suspect and the Cover 2 defense is outdated and is easily exploited. It’s difficult to blame Peppers for the opposing quarterback getting rid of the ball to a wide open receiver a half-second before he gets there.
There is more that goes into a defensive lineman’s production than sacks. What matters most — at least in the passing game — is how much pressure he generates, and Peppers has created quite a bit. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Pompei, Peppers had five quarterback pressures against the Bills on Sunday. He forced errant throws from Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and made him uncomfortable in the pocket on a number of plays.
Not to mention, Peppers has made an impact in the run game this season as well. The way he crashes down the line of scrimmage to stop a running back at or behind the line of scrimmage is unmatched by most ends in the league. His athleticism and instincts to contain plays is freakishly good. The Bears brought him in mainly to help upgrade the pass rush but his ability against the run has been a contributing factor to the Bears having the league’s third-best run defense.
Judging a player’s performance and impact on a game by statistics alone is ignorant. Would we all like to see more sacks from the man who is making $20 million this year alone? Absolutely. Do Peppers’ two sacks mean that the Bears made a mistake in giving him the large contract this off-season? Not a chance.