Clay Matthews or Julius Peppers--who's the scarier defender? We asked a few insiders and scouts what they thought.
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They both earned defensive player of the year titles, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews by Sporting News and Chicago’s Julius Peppers by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.
Matthews, after all, was second in the NFL with 13 ½ sacks, the most of any player on a playoff team, and he also had an interception and two forced fumbles. Peppers only had eight sacks – tied for 17th in the NFL – but coaches and scouts acknowledge that his impact on the Bears’ defense is wide-reaching.
So I posed the question to scouts and coaches from the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions: Which is the scarier player?
Former Houston Texans and Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly was diplomatic when I spoke to him earlier in the week, noting that Matthews was an outside linebacker and Peppers was a defensive end.
“They’re both A-plus pass rushers,” Casserly told me, “but Matthews will rely more on a quickness. Peppers is a bigger guy, who also has power moves.
“They’re two different guys, and they’re not playing against each other.”
So, I asked, who is better?
“If you’re in a 3-4, you take Matthews,” Casserly said. “If you’re in a 4-3, you take Peppers.”
But several of my sources for today’s breakdown of Sunday’s game disagreed. In fact, given Peppers’ rare combination of size and speed, and his ability to defend the run and rush the passer, he could be an excellent end in a 3-4.
“Peppers is a monster,” one source said. “He’s a freak out there. Matthews is a guy you can’t fall asleep on but he’s not the most imposing [player].”
Another source said Matthews is a throwback, the sort of player who is athletic but has a non-stop motor. Make a mistake, and he’ll make you pay.
But Peppers is seemingly from the future, a 6 foot 7, 283-pound man who, on at least two occasions, chased down Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick from behind.
One offensive coach said Peppers “keeps you up at night” because he can wreck a carefully thought out game plan.
“He’s a match up nightmare,” he said.
Matthews had a brilliant season for the Packers. But several players make that defense special, including defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins and cornerback Charles Woodson.
In Chicago, Peppers keys the defense.
“He was the piece they were missing,” one source said. “He makes the people around him better.”
Don’t just look at the most obvious defensive rankings. The Bears were 17th overall, and 23rd against the run and 13 against the pass in 2009. This season, they are ninth overall, 2nd against the run and 20th against the pass.
But he’s been a key factor in points per game dropping from a tie for 21st to fourth, and third-down efficiency from 27th to sixth.
“We thought he was good when he came here,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “We watched him play in Carolina and then once he got here he was everything we thought he would be and more.
A look at their numbers courtesy of STATS:
Julius Peppers vs. Clay Matthews
Player ........ Peppers ... Matthews
QB Hurries .......... 15 ... 14
QB Knockdowns .. 19 ... 23
QB Sacks ............. 8 ... 13.5
Yards Lost ........... 54 ... 93.5
Stuffs ................... 6 ..... 4