Peppers doing everything but finishing
Bears defensive end doing it all, except for sacks
Dan Pompei On the NFL
If anyone were voting for a most valuable Bears player after seven games, the winner would be Julius Peppers in a landslide.
He has changed games with his athleticism, size and strength. He has beaten individual blockers and blocking schemes with consistency. He has disrupted the rhythm of passing games and made players around him better.
He has gotten after the quarterback, has been a force against the run, has made tackles for a loss, has batted down passes, has intercepted a ball and even has blocked a kick.
But he really hasn't done the thing he's paid to do — get sacks.
Peppers has two sacks after seven games. Fifty-four players have more, including teammate Israel Idonije, three Packers, the man who replaced him in Carolina and a safety.
Is this a problem?
Former Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache probably wouldn't think so. Peppers could have played for him.
"Sacks are overrated," said Peppers, echoing Blache's belief. "People are going to look at that stat line and say that's what they're going to measure people by. Especially a defensive end. But a hurry, or if you get a quarterback to throw an interception, those types of things are worth more than a sack."
Sacks might be overrated. And money can't buy you love.
But I'll take as much of each as I can get.
Sacks end drives and force punts. They frustrate offenses and put doubt in a quarterback's head. They change the way offensive coordinators call games.
Peppers has seven quarterback knockdowns and six hurries, according to STATS. If he could have turned four or five of those into sacks, the Bears might have another couple of victories. Opponents have completed quite a few passes on plays in which Peppers had a pressure. You can't complete passes on sacks.
Sometimes, though, sacks are out of a pass rusher's control. All he can do is defeat his blocker and make a run at the quarterback. Peppers has done that very well.
"We can't dictate the pace of the offense in terms of the set and the throw," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "What we can dictate is winning the rush. All I know is he's beating his man. He's winning. He's rushing really well."
Marinelli has been good for Peppers. Allowing Peppers to flip sides has created problems for offenses. And Marinelli has refined some of Peppers' moves.
Of course Peppers is getting a lot of attention from blocking schemes. But this is nothing new or unexpected. Peppers also has seen enough one-on-one opportunities to get the quarterback on the ground more than he has.
What Peppers hasn't done always is finish.
Former Bear Richard Dent was one of the NFL's greatest finishers. So I asked him what he thinks of Peppers.
"I'd like to see him use his hands a little more to create separation," Dent said. "He has a great deal of lower-body strength. And he has a burst of speed. But he can't use that all the time. He has to set people up. He gets blockers in position, but he's still going vertical. You have to go sideways, flip your hips and slide. I'd like to see him finish."
Dent said he has been trying to reach Peppers to offer some advice.
"He's something we haven't had in awhile," Dent said. "He can make things happen. There is something great there, but it could be even greater."
Peppers hasn't had a sack in the last three games, but that is not unusual for him. In his previous nine seasons, he has had at least one streak as long or longer in every season except one. He has had a three-game sackless streak 11 times, a four-game streak seven times and a five-game streak three times.
Slow starts are not unusual for Peppers either, though he has had seven or more sacks after seven games three times in his career. He also has had two or fewer sacks after seven games five times, including this year.
This season could be shaping up for him like 2004, when he had two sacks at this point but ended up with 11.
If Peppers continues to run over blockers, he has to start running over quarterbacks too. Doesn't he?