Six games into the 2007 Season, the Carolina Panthers have amassed a league-low four total sacks.
But those struggles might very well be on the verge of changing.
After going sack-less in his first five games, defensive end Julius Peppers broke out of his slump with a pair of forced fumbles and a sack-and-a-half to go along with seven tackles in Carolina's last game at Arizona. So if the old NFL adage that "sacks come in bunches" holds true, then the Colts offensive line should be in for one whale of challenge this week, especially right offensive tackle Ryan Diem, who will have the pleasure of slowing Julius Peppers.
When asked about Peppers in his weekly conference call, Colts head coach Tony Dungy said, "Julius is just a bigger guy. He plays on the left side and he's still very disruptive. You've got to account for him." Very similar to Dungy's Colts, Carolina wants to create pressure with their front four, thus allowing linebackers and the secondary to concentrate more on pass coverage.
What exactly makes Peppers go good? He is arguably the NFL's best athlete at end. His quickness, speed and reaction time are rare. His explosive burst immediately puts linemen on the defensive. Moreover, his first step sets up all of his moves. His favorite is a speed-to-power move that forces a tackle off balance and bowls him into the quarterback. In sum, Peppers is an elite classic speed rusher with great strength. He'll challenge Diem upfield with his speed before using his strength to come back inside.
Julius also bends very well, getting underneath his man and extending to control the outside edge. He can play low despite a 6-foot-6 frame. He has long arms and can strip the quarterback from behind or knock down passes. His closing burst is remarkable and is fluid enough to stay with tight ends in man-to-man coverage.
Ryan Diem hoists the Lombardi Trophy
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So what must Ryan Diem do to be successful? Ryan has struggled from time to time with speed rushers. Peppers, though, is more than just that. He is one of the elite edge guys in the league. Diem will struggle if he fails to latch on and engulf. Ryan also can't let Peppers' first step dictate the play. That will cause Ryan to stiffen and become top heavy. That's exactly what Peppers wants -- a top heavy off-balance 330-pound lineman that he can push straight back.
Ryan usually does a decent job of kicking out to pick up the outside speed rush. He struggles, though, against good counter moves and change of direction moves. So it's also important that Diem take Peppers out before he can counter. Ryan must set the pace.
How does he do that? Peppers will struggle to counter when his initial move is stymied. So watch the first second-and-a-half of this matchup very closely. That should tell you everything.
RT Ryan Diem is going to struggle one-on-one in this matchup at times. Peppers should be fresh and ready to go coming off the bye. So don't be surprised to see Indianapolis tight end Ben Utecht lining up beside Diem to help throughout the game.
Carolina will move Peppers around from left to right from time to time also. When that happens, you can likely expect Utecht to move accordingly, helping rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh when Peppers shifts from left defensive end to right defensive end.