Julius Peppers lays it on the line
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist October 14, 2013 10:00PM
Here’s how defensive end Julius Peppers has fared through six games in every season with the Bears and his last season with the Carolina Panthers in 2009, according to Pro Football Focus:
Team Best rating Worst rating Hurries Sacks Stops *
2013 BEARS 5.6 -3.9 10 1 7
2012 BEARS 1.5 -2.1 14 4 8
2011 BEARS 1.4 -2.8 14 5 12
2010 BEARS 4.6 0.2 12 2 11
2009 CAR 2.0 -6.0 7 6 13
*PFF defines stops as “solo tackles made, which constitute an offensive failure, including sacks.”
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Updated: November 16, 2013 6:19AM
I found Julius Peppers on Monday. A lot of people have been looking for him. I’m happy to report that he’s alive and, well, he could use a lot of help.
Unfortunately, help is not on the way, other than in the form of defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who could return from a toe injury this week. Coach Marc Trestman insists the Bears have enough talent on the defensive line, which tells me one of three things: A) he believes it, B) he wants to build up his players’ shaky confidence or C) he’s preparing to take his stand-up act to the Catskills.
Whatever the case, the Redskins, the Bears’ opponent Sunday, will be able to pay an inordinate amount of attention to Peppers, even though he has shown the capacity to struggle all by himself this season. Against the Giants on Thursday, he was not credited with a tackle or a sack. After Bears coaches went over the tape of the game, there was no statistical inflation. It was still zeros.
Peppers finds himself in an awkward situation. He’s by far the most talented player on a defensive line wracked by injuries. He’s also the highest-paid player on the team, with a six-year, $84 million contract that runs through the 2015 season. The part of you that understands the injury challenge gets impatient when the pile of money is added to the equation.
“Listen, we all have a job to do,’’ Peppers said after practice. “We all get paid to do our job. And when you’re not doing it, you’ve got to be held accountable. Everybody has a right to their own opinion about my play, about the defensive line’s play.
“But to have a real understanding of what’s going on, you have to be in the room or on the field and be a part of it to really get a grasp of it. I don’t get irritated or mad about it. . . . I just concentrate on what I can control, and that’s my play.’’
That hasn’t been good, whether you’re on the field, in the meeting room or watching on TV. In six games, he has a combined eight tackles and one sack. That’s unacceptable. That shouldn’t happen with someone of Peppers’ abilities, even if opponents have him under lock and key.
The Bears are without tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins, who have torn knee ligaments. Defensive end Corey Wootton has been pushed to tackle to make up for the losses inside. Shea McClellin looks like a linebacker, not a defensive end. It’s a mess.
In one breath, Peppers says it hasn’t affected his ability to get to the quarterback. In the next . . .
“It’s not because of what’s going on inside,’’ he said. “We have guys down. We have injuries. We have a lot of guys in the rotation that are not normally in the game. We haven’t had a lot of chemistry with the group that’s on the field.
“With all that being said, that’s an excuse. We’re playing with the guys we have. We’re going to do the best we can with those guys, and we’re just going to have to find a way to make it work.’’
Excuses aside, then, what are opposing teams doing to make it difficult for him?
“It’s just game-planning,’’ he said. “Other teams are aware of us as a group and, I guess, our capabilities. If you watch the film, you’ll see that teams come out and max-protect sometimes and chip out, which you’ll see in every game you watch. It happens with us, too.
“We’ve just got to find a way to deal with those things better.’’
A trade for a defensive lineman seems unlikely.
Trades are rare in the NFL, and with so many players on the roster who will be free agents after the season, it’s hard to see general manager Phil Emery burning up some of next year’s draft for help in 2013.
But, man, the Bears could use help now.
Peppers said there will be time to evaluate him later.
“There’s going to come a time for reflection about what I have done and what I didn’t do over the course of the season,’’ he said. “I really don’t think it should be up for discussion at this point because there’s a lot of football left to be played.’’
At this point, that sounds more like a threat than a comfort.