Chicago Bears Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers only played three quarters in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. He's still nursing a sprained knee and there was no need to keep him on the field in the fourth quarter of a blowout win.
Yet no player had as much of an impact on the game as Peppers did in just three periods of play. He racked up three tackles, a pass deflection, a sack and a forced fumble. One can only imagine what he would have accomplished on two good legs.
Through his last four games, Peppers has 4.0 sacks – easily the most on the team during that timeframe. Yet in the Bears' first five games, he earned just 2.0 sacks, and that was when both his knees were 100 percent.
DE Julius Peppers
The difference has been the manner in which defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has deployed his best pass rusher. Through the first five weeks, opposing offenses double-teamed and triple-teamed Peppers on nearly every play. And when he didn't have two linemen in his face, there was almost always a back or tight end chipping him on the edge. No matter the caliber of a defensive lineman, having to fight through multiple players on every play will reduce his impact on the game.
Marinelli's answer has been to shift Peppers to different locations along the defensive line. By doing this, it creates confusion for opposing offenses and reduces their ability to chip.
In this past Sunday's contest, Peppers was on the field for 48 defensive snaps. He lined up at right defensive end for 35 of those, at left defensive end for eight, at left defensive tackle for four and one snap at right defensive tackle. Lining him up inside was not something for which Detroit was prepared, and Peppers wreaked havoc on the Lions' offensive guards. In fact, his only sack of the game came when he was lined up at left defensive tackle. Click here for an in-depth breakdown of his takedown on Detroit QB Matthew Stafford.
Let's take a look at the three additional plays that demonstrate the value of shifting Peppers across the defensive front.
Right defensive end
3rd and 9 at the Detroit 32-yard line. LB Lance Briggs shows blitz between Peppers and DT Stephen Paea. At the snap, Briggs blitzes straight ahead. G Rob Sims and C Dominic Raiola double-team Paea. RB Maurice Morris slides outside to help on Peppers. This leaves a wide lane for Briggs to run through. He flushes QB Matthew Stafford out of the pocket and takes him down just as he's releasing the pass, which falls incomplete.
Morris was so worried about chipping Peppers on this play that he failed to pick up the blitzer. This allowed Briggs a free run at the signal caller, resulting in a Detroit punt.
Left defensive tackle
3rd and 10 at the Detroit 30-yard line. The Lions use three receivers with Stafford in shotgun. Peppers lines up at tackle, with Henry Melton at end. At the snap, Peppers uses an inside rip move and blows right past RG Stephen Peterman. This flushes Stafford out of the pocket. The signal caller then changes directions but Peppers chases him all the way down to the sideline, forcing Stafford to throw the ball out of bounds.
Peterman struggled mightily each time Peppers lined up across from him. Offensive tackles may have the quickness and agility to keep Peppers at bay but not many guards can say the same.
Left defensive end
1st and 10 at the Chicago 23-yard line. Stafford is in shotgun. TE Brandon Pettigrew is lined up on the right edge, across from Peppers. At the snap, Pettigrew runs a three-yard out pattern into the right flat. Stafford, as he did all game, stares down his tight end. He rolls right to open up a passing lane but Peppers is running stride for stride with Pettigrew. Stafford has to throw the ball away.
DE Julius Peppers
The following play, Peppers lines up on the right side, across from Pettigrew. At the snap, Peppers again drops back and covers the tight end man to man. Stafford looks his way but then has to throw the pass to the other side of the field.
Not only did Marinelli rush him from multiple angles but he also used Peppers' freakish athleticism in pass coverage. When a 6-7, 287-pound defensive end can drop back and cover a tight end one-on-one, it gives the defensive coordinator countless schematic options.
The Bears will continue to be creative with Peppers for the remainder of the season. He is just too talented to pigeonhole him to one location on the field. He's a rare breed; a player who can be effective from almost any position along the defensive line. Opposing offenses won't be able to gameplan for him on every play because they'll have no idea where he's going to line up.
This means Henry Melton and Mario Addison will continue to get reps at defensive end in place of Peppers. Neither player did anything in last week's game rushing off the edge. Both will need to step up and take advantage of the havoc Peppers creates inside.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.